Virginia Father-Son Doctor Duo Fight Cancer Side by Side

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Positive father-son relationships are always prized, but Dr. David Randolph and his son take things to a whole other level by practicing medicine shoulder-to-shoulder.

Dr. David Randolph and his son, Dr. David Randolph II, both work at Johnston-Willis Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, as radiation oncologists. 

Oncology is the study of cancer and cancer research, and this practice can be further split into subcategories, like medical or radiation. Radiation oncology is a local type of therapy that utilizes radioactive methods directly at the source.   

The father and son speak very highly of each other, taking turns telling Inside Edition Digital examples of how the other cares deeply for others, making it evident that the love and respect they have for each other not only feeds their familial relationship, but benefits their working one as well.

Randolph Sr. shared how his dedication to helping others through medicine began as a sickly child.

“My dad had a second grade education, my mother had finished high school, and it was just too expensive to take me to the doctor and so they never did. I would just sit at home and suffer.” he said. “And so I had made up my mind as a young kid that with many, many prayers to God, that if he could see me through that tough time, I would become a physician, and I would help kids.”

He went from being one of 13 children with debilitating asthma, to thriving in school, and then residency. During that time he changed his course from focusing on children to family practice and then again to oncology. 

And even with Randolph Jr.’s impressive family history of careers in healthcare— his mother is a dentist and his sister is a retina surgeon and ophthalmologist— the son said he never felt pressure to be in the medical field. 

Randolph Jr. joked about his entry into medicine, saying, “When I was a kid, we had a pretty nice house, but in the basement there was this very dark area. It was almost like a, I guess you could say, a dungeon. And so my parents kept me in there until I got A’s, and only until I agreed to be a doctor. And so, eventually one day, I said, ‘Father, I graduated medical school.’ And he said, ‘OK, son, I guess I’ll let you out.’ And that’s basically my story.”

In reality, he said, his parents told him, “If you want to grow up and be a custodian, good for you, just be the best damn custodian there is.” Ultimately, he found his way to medicine, inspired by the impact he saw his father’s work had on others.

“We grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, which is a relatively smallish town and we would be out, and my dad would run into his patients and they would just be almost in tears, thanking him for the job that he’s done for them and the impact that he’s made on their lives — whether it be curing their cancer, or whether it’d just be improving their grandma’s quality of life during her last years of her life and he got her pain-free,” he said.

“I was able to witness the impact that he had, and see how he was able to help these people,” he continued. “And that’s what really started my interest in medicine —  just seeing that you can have anything in the world that you want, but if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything, and being able to help improve or restore people’s health is something that’s very meaningful.”

They both hold patient care at the core of their work, ensuring that their patient’s feel taken care of first and foremost, partially due to their own experiences of supporting loved ones through cancer experiences.

“My dad’s father passed away from lung cancer,” Randolph Jr. said. “Cancer is so pervasive, there’s no way you can get around those experiences, and being on the other side of things, I know what it’s like. And just being in healthcare, I know what it’s like when you have a doctor that can actually connect with you, and you feel like is really fighting for you, rather than a doctor where you’re just a patient on a chart with a diagnosis.”

Both the father and son support the data that shows how positivity and trust in your physician can aid in patient outcomes. “People do better. People do better when they have faith in their physicians,” said Randolph Sr. “And if you approach them with compassion, they have faith in you. And then the studies have shown that they do better, that they believe they will do better, they do better.”

The duo also doesn’t take lightly the impact their place as Black men in healthcare. Randolph Sr. was the first Black man to graduate from his radiation oncology program in 1989, and there has not been another since.

“You felt like you had to fight a battle uphill all the time, purely based on the way you looked, not what you knew. And that was always very difficult for me.” he said. 

According to the Oncology Practice journal, despite making up over 13% of the total U.S. population, Black individuals only make up 3% of medical oncologists. These rates only decrease as you look into radiation oncology and the subcategories of them both. Representation matters not only for cultural competency with patients, but for ridding the disparities of cancer-related care of patients overall. 

The father and son note the sordid history of medicine for communities of color, citing moments in history like the Tuskegee Experiments that have contributed to medical mistrust within communities of color.

The doctors agree that when healthcare providers look like you, it can bring an important comfort for marginalized communities, and they both make an impact purely on representation. They each sit on executive communities at Johnston-Willis; Randolph Sr. is nationally renowned in the field, and Randolph Jr. volunteers with The Big Brothers and Big Sisters. 

The duo also make a point to do informational sessions throughout the community, understanding that medical information and suggestions will come better from folks that you know and trust.

The doctors shared their hopes for continued improvements in this arena, but because symptoms can show up differently for people of differing backgrounds, pushing for not only increased representation in the field but within medical research.

The two plan to continue their work together, keeping community care at the helm. Randolph Jr. recently welcomed his son, David Randolph III, and told Inside Edition Digital in jest his plans to continue the medical trend. 

“I’m going to do what my parents did and lock him in a closet until he’s a doctor. And, we’ll continue the trend that way,” he laughed.

“When I think about the type of father that I want to be, I couldn’t be more blessed to have a father like him to provide that example of not only excellence as far as professionalism,” he continued, “But excellence as far as fatherhood.”