Michaele Christian's dream of becoming a doctor was born on the Saturday afternoon when she was 5 and would go to the hospital to meet her father, the intern.
But during her senior year at St. Mary's Academy in South Bend, Ind., her advisers told her to forget it, that she didn't have what it would take to make it through the grueling math and science courses of a pre-med program.
Last night, however, after a six-year detour that included a stint as the District's youngest high school assistant principal, Christian became the first black to receive Georgetown University Medical School's annual prize for being the number one student in its graduating class of 210.
Christian also won prizes for "outstanding academic performance" in the fields of radiology and medicine -- the first black woman to win either -- and a national, competitive fellowship to encourage minority students to pursue careers in academic medicine.
All of which isn't bad work for a woman who agreed with her advisers 14 years ago that "I was not cut out to be a pre-med."
"I suppose I had a few regrets," she recalled, but not enough to do anything about it. I became a political science major [at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y.] and as a result of my studies I was so cynical I didn't want to have anything to do with politics."
So after jamming four years of courses into three years of school, she went into art administration instead and landed a job as administrator of the Friends of the Kennedy Center, a fund-raising group.
But Christian's dream died hard. She had a feeling "of not having found myself. I liked what I was doing, but I didn't like it enough to do it for 30 or 40 years . . . I just thought I'd probably always like to work, and it's important for me to work at something I could enjoy in the long run."
She couldn't get away from those memories of sitting in the emergency room in South Bend, waiting while her father finished his shift. "I loved it," she said during a recent interview. "I just loved it. And all through my childhood I used to think up injuries so I could have X-rays and go to the hospital. It was a little bizarre."
So while working days, "she began to take math and science courses at George Washington University at night. And she began to run up a string of As.
Christian moved from her job at the Kennedy Center to a post as administrator of the Workshop for Careers in the Arts, the precursor of the Ellington School of the Arts. When the school was established, and she became its administrator, a post carrying the rank of assistant principal, she was only 26.
"There was a lot of resentment" from older staff members, she said, "Which was unfortunate. Because by the time I got to Ellington, I'd decided I was going into medicine and had only two years to give them, so I should have been the easiest person to work with because I wasn't bucking for somebody's superintendency. That was the hardest period of my life. You just had to grind things out, with no helf from anybody. It was great preparation for medical school."
Christian applied to Georgetown, George Washington and Howard University Medical Schools, and was accepted at all three for the fall of 1973. Then came the question of which to accept.
"It was a tough decision," she said. "I'd had a good experience at GW, but I thought Georgetown had a better reputation. The toughest decision was whether to go to Georgetown or Howard."
"I talked to a lot of people, and thought about it for a long time. I'm still not sure why I made the decision I did. Certainly, for a black person, Georgetown doesn't have the camaraderie Howard does. It also had a very bad reputation from the point of not graduating blacks who started. And it looked as though any given year at Georgetown was going to be five times as expensive as Howard. But the first thing that put my mind at ease about Georgetown was that [courses in] the first two years are graded by computer, and I decided I'd take my chances with the computer."
Medical school, she said, turned out to be easier than she had expected -- "you're not always grinding away" -- and there were other surprises.
"I remember that you get a bag of bones when you start anatomy, and I remember looking at my bones and they had little holes and bumps and ridges, and I thought, 'oh, these are raggedy bones!' But I found out later that every hole, bump and ridge has a name that you have to learn."
There is no stigma attached to being a female medical student at Georgetown, said Christian, but two unsuccessful pregnancies -- she is now pregnant for the third time -- and trying to maintain a home life with her husband, an attorney, taxed her energies.
But being a black student at a predominantly white school -- and the first black to capture the number one spot in the class -- is a different matter.
"My first thought is it's unfortunate we even have to discuss it," she said.
"It's unfortunate that I'm even considered a human interest story . . . It's unfortunate there are not more black people who are better trained and in this position. But that is a reflection on the educational system and society in general, and on the fact that so many black people are educated in horrible public schools.
"I'm sure that one reason i pushed myself -- and I have pushed myself, certainly more than I needed to graduate -- was out of racial pride," she said. "Because there are enough people at Georgetown, and everywhere else, who think black people can't do it. There's a certain amount of satisfaction in having done well despite that. I view that as a burden and a satisfaction."
And what of the advisers who told Michaele Christian that she'd never make it as a doctor?
"One of my advisers asks my parents about me frequently," she said. But St. Mary's Academy shut down before Christian could show its staff how wrong they had been.