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Former Honors Student Works to Combat Melanoma as a Doctor and Designer

Former Honors Student Works to Combat Melanoma as a Doctor and Designer

solwearMD co-founders Julie Danna and Lisa Pruett then and now

Julie Danna is a medical dermatologist at Ochsner Health Center in Metairie, La. This versatile mother of four is the founder of the Melanoma Clinic at Ochsner, and the creator of a sun protective clothing item for women. Prior to these accomplishments, she was an Ogden Honors student.  

LSU is a big, vibrant place that can be intimidating, but Danna felt the Ogden Honors College would make LSU a great fit. “LSU was such a big and exciting place, and I needed something to keep me focused. Also, I was coming from a very small school, so I knew that I was going to feel a little overwhelmed in classrooms that were the size of auditoriums.  I was very interested in being in a smaller group setting,” Danna recalls. 

The Honors College is a “campus within a campus.” Classrooms in the French House are newly renovated and designed for small seminar discussions. Honors classes are limited to 20 students, which makes classes intimate and engaging for faculty and students. Danna also used the Honors College as an opportunity to take classes that were not in her areas of expertise. She had always been good at science, but she did not want to excel only at science, so she took Honors courses that focused on English and philosophy. 

“I actually tried to work on a part of me that I knew wasn't very strong because one of my  goals was to become a more well-rounded person. I knew  that was  something that I could accomplish  in the Honors College setting.  Danna always knew she wanted to work in the medical field, but she was unsure to what extent. It was not until she got to medical school at LSU Health Sciences that she found her passion for dermatology. She enjoys treating visual diseases and educating patients about skin cancer and sun protection  because, she notes, there is a lack of general knowledge about skin cancer. 

Melanoma is one of  the most dangerous kinds of skin cancer because the cells are innately aggressive, it can be triggered by sunlight, and there is also a potential genetic component. Danna noticed problems arising from melanoma diagnosis in her community — particularly noting that patients were uninformed or misinformed about their diagnosis and how it was relevant to the patient’s health and their family member’s health as well . That is why she started the Melanoma Clinic at Ochsner where she can spend more time on education and overall healthcare. She is also part of a multidisciplinary clinic that is complete with specialists from other fields to provide patients with a comprehensive and unique care plan.  

Through her passion for science and dermatology, Danna discovered a passion for fashion. Her clothing line solwearMD (https://solwearmd.com/) is another way for her to educate people about melanoma, and to offer a solution. Danna and Dr. Lisa Pruett, one of her best friends from medical school, recognized a problem that many women were having with sun protection. “No one likes rash guards or putting sunscreen all over, so we decided let's create a wrap that isn't as stuffy and sticky as a rash guard and will obviate the need for continuously reapplying sunscreen.” According to Danna, “We founded solwearMD because we were tired of the nonfunctional, impractical options available for women to cover up from the sun's skin-cancer causing and aging rays.”

Clearly, Danna is an innovator and a critical thinker, skills she developed and enhanced during her time in the Ogden Honors College. It is not easy, Danna comments, going from pieces of Joann’s Fabrics sprawled out on the floor to selecting UPF 50 fabric to qualify for the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation, but doing something that can help people is a rewarding and gratifying experience.