Dr. Don Jurgens, ’02, Helps Lead Cancer Care in Greater Minnesota

About 39% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. Whether a relative has undergone treatment for it, a friend is in line for surgery, or someone is personally considering options because of a diagnosis, cancer has affected just about everyone. However, there is immense hope on the tailcoat of this life-altering news thanks to advances in treatment and care. 

“Oncology has changed a lot in the last 10 years,” said Don Jurgens, MD, a 2002 University of Minnesota Medical School graduate. “There are fewer ‘hopeless’ situations than there were when I was a medical student. Even if incurable and even if patients are frail, treatment is a worthwhile discussion.” 

Dr. Jurgens is one of five medical oncologists practicing at CentraCare in St. Cloud, Minn. While he and his colleagues work collaboratively to provide excellent cancer care in clinic, Dr. Jurgens also dedicates daily time to clinical research.  

“My research time relates to my role as principal investigator for our clinical trials here,” Dr Jurgens said. “We usually have 40 to 50 trials that are mostly NCI-sponsored, but we have some industry-sponsored trials as well.” 

Research is an important aspect of further understanding and treating cancer. Even during Dr. Jurgens’ time in practice, research has sparked innovations that improve care, like immunotherapy options. 

“It has completely changed the treatment paradigms for several cancer types and altered the program in tremendous ways,” he said. “For example, when I was in training, metastatic melanoma trials used six-month survival as an endpoint because so many patients would not even make it that far in a trial. When immunotherapy came along, most of the studies looking at it showed that well over half the patients were still alive, often disease-free, at the five-year mark.

Dr. Jurgens began his academic career at the U of M Medical School, Duluth Campus, and after graduating in 2002, he spent the next six years completing both residency and fellowship training at the Mayo Clinic. Since joining CentraCare, he has improved the standard-of-care for some of the 200,000 patients the system serves. 

“St. Cloud reminds me of what I liked about attending school in Duluth, where the focus is primary care,” Dr. Jurgens said. “As a medical oncologist, I follow my patients long-term, even when ‘long-term’ is not that long anymore. I get to know my patients and help them through a very difficult, possibly the most difficult, time in their lives."

Dr. Jurgens recalls his time in Duluth fondly. 

"The tight-knit Duluth Campus community incorporated faculty, as well as fellow students. The faculty were all so motivated to help us succeed – it energized me to do the very best I could,” he said. “I have the same mindset today, where I guide patients and help them through their challenges.” 

When looking back on his time in training, cancer fascinated him from the start. 

“I was drawn to Duluth because of the small class size and the focus on primary care, which was my original intention. However, even from a biology standpoint, cancer is interesting,” Dr. Jurgens said. “Treatments have come a long way since I was a medical student, and it is very exciting to be a part of those changes in real time. Sharing that knowledge through treatment programs is incredibly rewarding.”