Cecelia 'Cece' Calhoun
Cecelia 'Cece' Calhoun, MD, MPHS, MBA, wears many hats at Yale School of Medicine as an Assistant Professor of Medicine (Hematology) and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics (Hematology/Oncology). She cares for adolescents and young adults with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) as part of the Smilow Cancer Hospital Pediatric and Adult Hematology Programs and is medical director of the Sickle Cell Program.
Born in Detroit, Calhoun attended Detroit Public Schools until high school, when she switched to Cranbrook Schools.
“The Senior May Project was one of the most early formative moments in my career,” she said. “Instead of formal class, you could do an internship or a mentorship experience.”
That is how she met Dr. Laurence Ulrey, an orthopedic surgeon at Beaumont Hospital who has been a huge supporter. “For me, that experience was incredible. First, I wanted to work with athletes, but it was really empowering to watch surgeries.” Ulrey also taught her the importance of providing the best care for people who trust you with their health.
“There is learning in the classroom, as an athlete where you learn discipline and camaraderie, and there is experiential learning that can really change the course of a person’s life, like me,” said Calhoun, who also credits her family for her success. “One of the best things my parents gave my sister and myself was the spirit of curiosity.”
The lifelong learner also felt a sense of social responsibility. “I wanted to work with people who are underserved,” she said. After earning a BA in Afro-American Studies from the University of Michigan, she received her MD from Wayne State University. She continued her training at Michigan State University as a pediatric resident, then a fellowship at Washington University School of Medicine, where she also completed a Master of Population Health Sciences. Calhoun received her MBA as one of three, inaugural Pozen-Commonwealth Fund Fellows in Minority Health Leadership at Yale University.
She seemed destined to find her specialty. “I knew I wanted to be a physician and I really wanted to work with my community. I got to do a clinical rotation; a pediatric rotation. I loved hematology, and the first time I saw an eight-year-old Sickle Cell patient who had a stroke, it was a light bulb moment. I thought: ‘Let me understand more about this disease.’ There was a synergy because I love the red blood cell and it gave me the ability to serve Black people. I know how far we need to go as a scientific community.”
In addition to her research, she enjoys conversations with patients. Much of her work centers around adolescents with Sickle Cell, an inherited disease with a life expectancy of 43. “I want to know how to make life better for them because that is when mortality starts to rise,” she said. “The majority of them live in socioeconomic despair and they are affected by systemic racism. It’s hard.”
She wants to have an impact. “What are the tools we can use and how can we engage and learn from our patients and support them so they can live longer? That is the nucleus of research I do.”
One possible cure for the disorder is gene therapy. For any treatment, communication is key. “They can feel so unheard with this rare disease. I am deeply saddened by the lack of progress made as a scientific community when we have so much potential. Still, I am inspired by the doctors and patients working to bring about change.”
The most rewarding aspects of her career include engaging with her colleagues and her patients. “I do the work for them,” said Calhoun. “They inspire me to stay vigilant and be resilient to keep moving forward. When they are successful, I feel the same.”
Story: Jeanine Matlow