Roger Duncan III, MD

Black History Month feature

History-Maker: Roger Duncan III, MD, FASA
By Erika D. Peterman, FMA Managing Editor

Paying it forward is a way of life for FMA Board of Governors member Roger Duncan III, MD, FASA.

As a medical student at Yale University in the 1980s and early ‘90s, Dr. Duncan made time to visit schools in low-income neighborhoods near campus and talk to children about the value of studying math and science — the doors it could open for them in the future. Along with other Black medical students and law students at Yale, he raised money to organize Christmas events and provide gifts for kids who were living in hotels because their families were homeless.

“We had a Black Santa Claus arrive by firetruck, and the kids loved being spoiled,” recalled Dr. Duncan, a Palm Beach County-based anesthesiologist who has been Vice-Chief of Anesthesia at HCA Florida Palms West Hospital since 2008. “I’m always doing this stuff to have an impact. I’m just trying to help and be a role model.”

Dr. Duncan has been giving back ever since. In the process, he is sowing the seeds of a more inclusive future for medicine and a better healthcare environment for everyone.

More than 10,000 students have participated in the Healthcare and Science Stars of Tomorrow Career Symposium, an annual program Dr. Duncan founded in 2012. The Symposium gives students from diverse backgrounds exposure to careers in STEM, including medicine.
Under the auspices of the T. Leroy Jefferson Medical Society (TLJMS) in 2012, Dr. Duncan founded and launched the annual Healthcare and Science Stars of Tomorrow Career Symposium, a program that gives students from diverse, underrepresented backgrounds exposure to STEM careers, including medicine, pharmacy, and biomedical engineering.

“With or without a stethoscope, you can be involved in healthcare,” he said.

More than 10,000 students from Palm Beach, Okeechobee, and Martin counties have gone through the program, attending organized rotations and interacting with physicians, biologists, and nuclear medicine technologists. Over the years, participants have heard from keynote speakers such as former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, PhD, and Cato T. Laurencin, MD, PhD, who founded the field of regenerative engineering.

For his “unparalleled generosity and dedication to those less represented in medicine,” Dr. Duncan received the FMA Award of Distinguished Service — the association’s highest honor — in 2023.

FMA Board member Roger Duncan III, MD, FASA, received the Award of Distinguished Service, the FMA’s highest honor, in 2023.
“My ultimate goal is to increase the level of healthcare for all citizens in the state of Florida,” said Dr. Duncan, a Past President of the Palm Beach County Medical Society (PBCMS) and TLJMS. “We need people with brains and heart to care about medicine and keep it going in the right direction so that we can treat all people.”

The 2024 Symposium will be held on Saturday, April 13, in Riviera Beach. It’s a labor of love for Dr. Duncan and a reflection of the values his parents taught him and his three siblings as they came of age in San Diego.

Dr. Duncan’s mother, an educator, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, and his father, a high-level government administrator before retirement, were among the first Black families to move into their neighborhood. They were also civil rights activists who hosted the Freedom Riders in their home and raised money to support others working for social justice. His mother provided transportation for Coretta Scott King when she came to town.

Pushing against the status quo came at a cost. His parents faced threats and hostility from segregationists. “People tried to intimidate my parents, but they wouldn’t back down,” Dr. Duncan said. “I saw that strength and perseverance.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Duncan and his siblings attended schools with the children of movie stars and future celebrities like skateboarding legend Tony Hawk.

“Where I lived in the Del Mar (area) up in the north county, out of 2,500 students, there were only 10 Black kids,” he said. “Three of them were my brother, my sister, and myself.”

Dr. Duncan’s mother and father emphasized education as the great equalizer. They encouraged their children to dream big and excel. At the same time, they instilled a sense of obligation to reach back and assist those who didn’t have the same advantages and access.

Dr. Duncan and his wife, attorney Lisa Quarrie-Duncan
“We were very fortunate to have those opportunities,” Dr. Duncan said. “Yes, we had to work our butts off to fulfill them but there were other people who were way smarter than me who, because of their skin color, weren’t able to go to the schools we went to.”

An early interest in science eventually led Dr. Duncan to Cal Poly State University, where he earned his undergraduate degree in biological sciences. Before entering the Yale University School of Medicine in 1985, he spent two summers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., working alongside a Nobel Prize winner as a research assistant.

Dr. Duncan’s upbringing gave him the tools to adapt to different environments and get along with all kinds of people. However, his open-mindedness wasn’t always reciprocated. During his medical school cardiothoracic surgery rotation, he introduced himself to a patient who was scheduled to have open heart surgery. The patient asked Dr. Duncan to collect her food tray and noted that the trash needed to be taken away.

Like his parents, Dr. Duncan was not easily deterred by adversity. After earning his medical degree in 1991, he went on to complete his anesthesiology residency at University Hospitals of Cleveland in Ohio. He has received numerous honors during his 35-year career, including an honorary medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Meritorious Achievement Award from the National Medical Association, and the Outstanding Community Samaritan Award from the Florida Atlantic University Schmidt College of Medicine.

However, the physician leader isn’t interested in resting on his laurels. In an increasingly diverse country, he believes it’s critical to nurture a medical workforce that mirrors the patient community. Black people represent more than 14 percent of the U.S. population but only 5.2% of the physician workforce, according to the most recent data from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Florida Sen. Bobby Powell (left) and Dr. Duncan at the state Capitol. Dr. Duncan served as Doctor of the Day for the Florida Senate during the Legislative Session.
“It’s been shown over and over again that cultural competence is important,” Dr. Duncan said. “If the patients believe their caretaker or provider has empathy … they are more open about things and more compliant. It creates a better relationship and saves money.”

While the Healthcare and Science Stars of Tomorrow Symposium helps students understand the practical steps toward STEM careers, Dr. Duncan’s mentorship efforts don’t end there.

This past November, he took 30 high school students to the NSU Florida College of Allopathic Medicine in Fort Lauderdale to tour the facility and experience being medical students for the day. Along with his wife, attorney Lisa Quarrie-Duncan, he has hosted students at his neighborhood country club to socialize, dine, and play in an environment with luxurious amenities — often for the first time in their lives.

“The first time I had all those kids there, they were just so excited,” Dr. Duncan said. “They jumped into the Olympic-sized pool with their clothes on.”

It’s an effective way to help young people visualize the potential rewards of leaning into academics and their own potential. Though many kids might see sports as the ultimate path to success and financial stability, making it to the pros is a long shot, at best.

“What happens if you tear your ACL? Even if you get to play professional football, the average career is only three years,” Dr. Duncan said. “What if they were doing math and science?”

In addition to encouraging aspiring medical professionals, Dr. Duncan is a dedicated advocate for physician-led healthcare. Through the FMA, PBCMS, and other organizations, he has traveled to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., to lobby for pro-medicine policies that will increase access to high-quality care. He is a member of the Palms West Hospital Board of Trustees, an Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology at the Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, and a Fellow of the American Society of Anesthesiology.

When he isn’t working, Dr. Duncan enjoys traveling with his wife and their four children, and skiing. But even in his free time, his calling to inspire others is top of mind. That hasn’t changed since the day he graduated from Yale and saw a familiar face in the audience: Coretta Scott King herself.

“She was right in front of me,” Dr. Duncan said. “I wanted to say, ‘Mrs. King, I just wanted to let you know I’m planning to live out your husband’s dream.’ ”