School of Medicine Alumni Honored for lifelong work

School of Medicine Alumni Honored for lifelong work

image of Dr. Christa-Marie Singleton being honored at 2022 Alumni Awards

The University of Louisville Alumni Awards are the highest honor bestowed by Louisville Alumni. For more than 30 years, the Alumni Awards have honored and celebrated the achievements of graduates from the University of Louisville. These awards recognize distinguished graduates who are exemplary ambassadors for the university and their college or school. The Alumni Award honorees reflect the high standing and character of their alma mater and are recognized at a ceremony during Homecoming week.

The School of Medicine proudly awarded Dr. Christa-Marie Singleton because of her career accomplishments, philanthropic endeavors, and contributions to her community. Nominations were received in the Spring and reviewed by a select committee at the School of Medicine.

Singleton knew from a very early age that she wanted to pursue medicine, but it wasn’t until later in life that her passion for medicine and advocacy met in the middle, leading her to where she is today. The journey wasn’t easy, but her passion ran deep; she accepted challenges without fear. Her story is inspiring to others facing similar challenges. While in Louisville, Dr. Singleton met with a group of students on October 21 to discuss overcoming challenges and following your dreams. We later interviewed Dr. Singleton on her own inspirations and continued dreams for the future.

1.    What inspired you to go into medicine? 

In my early life, I was a frequent visitor in my pediatrician’s office due to frequent illnesses. By age 11, I knew I wanted to be a pediatrician just like my doctor, Dr. Eleanor Stafford. Dr. Stafford inspired me to go into medicine because she took the time to tell me, and remind me, that it was important to take the time to talk to people and listen to their situation in order to help people heal.  

2.     What are some of your greatest accomplishments you’re proud of; what challenges did you face to get to where you are today?

I consider my greatest accomplishment to be the honor and privilege of being a parent to my now 16-year-old son; I’m also honored to have had the experience and opportunity to be able to use my medical and public health policy training to help translate my patients’ health priorities into better health access for communities. I am very grateful that one day during my pediatric internship one of my teachers or attendings said to me, “You, young lady, I can see, have a career in government.”  He introduced me to the concept of public health as a way to blend science into clinical medicine and not just impact one person’s individual health, but to improve the community’s health.  Instead of being one person’s doctor, I could be the community’s doctor.  I suspect he had heard about my health advocacy experience with the Kentucky Medical Student Section of the AMA that I began at UofL. He convinced my residency program to allow me to take a trial public health class at Johns Hopkins (about 1.5-2 hours down the road – pre online education). The agreement was that if I made a B or better in that class, the program would allow me to go to public health school while in residency. So, I rearranged my residency call schedule so that I could commute from Delaware to either suburban Washington D.C. or downtown D.C. Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings to pursue a Master of Public Health degree in health policy at the same time as my pediatric residency. The thought of a person pursuing two simultaneous programs was relatively unheard of at the time, and as I look back on that time, I think the things that got me through it was a simmering sense of “do” – stoked by seeds of my faith in God planted by my parents and by lots of questioning “why” and “how” evidence-based science could be used at the bedside of patients coming into the world and leaving the world. Those experiences gave me the opportunity to find strength to find my way “to not try but to do.” 

3.     What’s the greatest piece of advice you would offer to this generation of medical students?

I am a big fan of the character “Yoda” from the Star Wars movies and the line “Do or no do…no try.” In answering these questions related to my “to do,” I’d also like to share with you the “the power of “be.” In the words of Lisa Kohn, it is important, even essential, that leaders don’t just “try” but that they “do.” Leaders get things done, move projects forward, and sometimes too much doing can also be an issue. Lisa’s reminder to add the second sentence to Yoda’s mantra, “There is no do, only be,” makes this concept even more real, and more pertinent to what this generation of medical students can be for this world. Time and time again we can get caught up in too much doing to try to rush to solve a patient’s chief complaint and to move on the next patient. However, there are times when, in order to heal our patients, we must stop and reflect. To sit and simply “be” with the patient issues at hand, so that our next steps to support our patients’ health are intentional, evidence-based, thoughtful, and effective. I’d also advise students to respect the power of be. When we get too caught up in action and doing, we lose sight of who we really are, what we really believe, and, at times, what is really important. When we can look at the world with where we’ve been, as well as the experience of what others have been, we can better make an imprint on the lives we know…and those we may never know. I hope that this generation of medical students will not only go on “to do” – and to “go be great.

4. What’s something you’re hopeful for in the future of medicine?

I hope that this generation of medical students will use their interests and passion in evidence-based medicine, social justice, and holistic health “to do” and to make an imprint on someone’s life. I have had the privilege to work in settings outside the comfortable life all of us have been blessed to have – to see first-hand health access – or the lack thereof – both in our country or challenged by another language and culture ---and most recently, the challenge of creating scientific, evidence-based public policy recommendations to improve community health. My goal when I left high school was to go off to college, medical school and return for private pediatric practice in a comfortable setting like the physicians with whom I had trained. But along the way, by working in public health emergency preparedness in Baltimore communities, at CDC in their State and Local preparedness departments, in my current work on evidence-based prevention policy, and during the COVID-19 response I found my “do” and my “be” – the calling to take evidence-based science and “have the community” as my “to do” that can make an imprint on multiple lives. Public health, particularly through the governmental lens - has been that “do” for me – because it’s the merger of evidence-based science, medicine and public policy that allows the opportunity and the privilege to take the nuts and bolts of clinical science that can physically improve a part of a single person’s life and then “do” that for a larger group of people. I’m now what one calls a preventive medicine public health physician which is a blend of training in scientific methods, clinical patient care, prevention, health policy, and government.  I hope that UofL medical students and all future medical students will now get to “do patient care” through the creation of public policies, social justice, and health programs that hopefully will protect the public’s health for a larger group of people. For me – in order to be effective in trying to improve a community’s health it was - and is important for me to have spent time in multiple facets of the health and policy arenas. I had to have some semblance of not just “do-ing” via classroom theory but “be-ing” – and actually have been there. I am trying to pass that mantra of not just do – but to be - onto the students that come behind me as well. I encourage this generation of medical students to go and to be – to be in as many places as you can be, not just in your comfort zone of what is usual and customary. We aren’t any help to each other if we are only being one same size, one type, one thing.