Michaele Chamblee Christian ’70

Michaele Chamblee Christian ’70

Written by Nataly Cifuentes ’16

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Michaele Christian

Michaele Christian was raised in northern Indiana, but her dream was to go to college on the East Coast, making Manhattanville an ideal destination for her undergraduate education. Her passion for medicine led her to become an excellent oncologist dedicated to research and the advancement of treatment options.

Michaele grew up watching her father be an excellent doctor. She used to go to the Emergency Room to pick him up after work and loved spending time at the hospital. However, she did not excel in math and science in high school, and for a while, she was convinced that she did not have the necessary skills to become a successful doctor.

While studying at Manhattanville, she pursued a degree in Political Science. After three years of arduous work and taking extra courses during the Fall and Spring semesters and over the summer, she was able to graduate in only three years in August of 1969. She commented, “It was intense, but it was manageable. I’m glad I was able to do it. It worked well and allowed me to move on.”

Manhattanville made an impact that would stay with Michaele through the years. As an active member of the student body, she participated in educational reform efforts that would improve the College’s curriculum and academic offerings. One reform presented the opportunity for students to take a limited number of classes as Pass/Fail versus receiving a letter grade upon completion of the course. She said, “To this day I think that is probably one of the most important educational things that one can do, because it allows you to study something purely for the love of the subject.”

As a result, Michaele was able to find and develop her passion for art. She took a number of studio art classes including painting, sculpture, and photography, which she loved. For eleven years, she has been doing her own monotype printing. She described it as “painting on a plate, like Plexiglas, and then transferring the image to paper in a press. It is a very painterly form of printmaking where each image produced is unique. It incorporates my love of painting in a somewhat unusual way.” As a form of creative expression, Michaele’s prints show a variety of themes ranging from nature-based to abstract.

After graduating from Manhattanville, Michaele got married and moved to Washington, D.C. She began working at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and later helped set up the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a “high school providing pre-professional arts training combined with a college preparatory academic program.” However, Michaele still felt the desire to become a doctor and decided to pursue her dream. She went back to school at George Washington University where she took pre-med courses. This time around, Michaele found math and science quite easy. She elaborated, “One’s brain continues to mature into the 20’s, and maybe I was more capable of conceptualizing math and science concepts.”

Afterwards, she applied to medical school at Georgetown University. She was nervous about the process because she was not a pre-med major and was applying for a highly competitive program. However, Elizabeth McCormack, who was President of Manhattanville while Michaele was a student, provided her with a letter of recommendation. Michaele was impressed and appreciative that the President of the College was not only willing, but also happy to write her a letter that would help her gain admission to a competitive medical school. Michaele was accepted at Georgetown University and graduated first in her class, a surprise even to her, she admitted with a chuckle. At Georgetown, she was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society and also completed her internship, residency and fellowship.

During this period, she also started her own family. In fact, she had her first child when she was an intern. She shared, “There are some things that are more important than your schedule, so I was happy to have my children when they came.”

Michaele specialized in oncology, the study and treatment of tumors. She elaborated, “Cancer is a field where continued research is extremely important because we don’t have the answers and best treatments for most cancers.” For this reason, she was very interested in conducting clinical research. Dr. Christian believes that if she had gone directly to medical school after her undergraduate studies, she also would have earned a Ph.D. and done basic lab research. She considers herself a “people person, not meant to be in the laboratory,” however, once she was introduced to research, she ended up loving being in a lab.

By conducting clinical research, she felt as though she was taking care of patients 20,000 at a time, instead of one by one. For many years, she worked with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) developing new treatments for cancer. When she retired in 2007, after 20 years with NIH, the Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program established the Michaele C. Christian Oncology Development Award. Michaele explained that the award intends to “honor and acknowledge scientists mid-career who are doing drug development work and who are hopefully improving the outcome for patients with cancer. It was quite an honor, a living tribute to my career.” This past October she attended the 8th award ceremony.

In addition to clinical research, Michaele has been an active member on several association boards, including the American Association of Cancer Research and the American Society of Clinical Oncology, two major cancer professional societies.  Her work with these societies included not only cancer science and therapeutics development but also racial health disparities and efforts to engage more women and people of color in cancer research.

In addition, for many years, Michaele served on the boards of the Black Student Fund and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Project, which she chaired. Both are community organizations in D.C. focused on education. Dr. Christian sees community service as a responsibility of people who have benefited from their society. She learned about the importance of giving back from a very early age, as she grew up in a family where making a contribution was a way of life. She elaborated, “My father, despite being an incredibly overworked family practitioner, and my mother, who had six children, both spent a great deal of time in community service.  I think reaching back for the people coming after you through mentoring is extremely important, as is community service. I was always active in women’s and black professional organizations and tried to mentor anyone who reached out to me. Most of my community service and volunteer activities have been focused in education which I think has the greatest long-term impact.  Even as a resident and throughout my career, no matter how busy, I have always served on boards and volunteered.”

Michaele was able to overcome obstacles throughout her career. Being one of the few black women in a male-dominated profession definitely proved to be a challenge. She shared, “It is difficult going to meetings and being in an environment where you are the only woman, the only black person, or one of very few. There are a number of challenges that come along with those biases, such as facing a glass ceiling.”

Michaele is proud of having had the perseverance to go back to school and pursue medicine as a career that has enabled her to make important contributions while still maintaining other important aspects of her life. She was happy to give a couple of recommendations to anyone who would like to pursue a career in medicine. Michaele believes that it is important to pursue your dreams and take on the challenges that come with it. However, she emphasized how important it is to maintain a healthy work-life balance through it all.

Above all, she emphasized that it is important to take time to enjoy your life. She added, “After all, what’s it all worth if you’re not enjoying it?  You need to have a schedule/calendar to achieve work-life balance, and you need to schedule fun time along with other obligations.”

Michaele is proud of being a Manhattanville alumna. It was here where she met her best friends for life, with whom she has so many fun memories. She remembers fondly how she ran for offices and was elected as the Sophomore Class President. She was very engaged on campus and valued the education she received and how it nurtured her willingness to give back to the community. She said, “Manhattanville gave me a lot, even after I graduated, and I should acknowledge that and give back.”

 

 

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