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A surprise for medical school’s first grandmother

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2007 - Autumn


Karen Morris-Priester, M.D. ’07, who received her medical degree on May 28, hopes she’ll be remembered for more than being the first grandmother to graduate from the School of Medicine.

“It’s kind of surprised me that that’s what people think about, because there’s a whole lot more that I’ve accomplished,” said the 44-year-old mother of five and grandmother of four, “but I’m not complaining, because it’s one reason I’ve been able to impact a lot of younger people.”

Her story of deferred dreams, resolve and sacrifice [See “Long Road to Cedar Street,” Yale Medicine, Winter 2003] inspired her classmates and professors, who asked her to carry the school’s banner at Commencement. It also caught the eye of Oprah Winfrey, who invited Morris-Priester to be part of a “Cheers for You” episode of her television show on May 9.

The week before, Morris-Priester’s teachers had lured her to a classroom for “an important graduation meeting.” Instead, Oprah appeared on a video screen to tell Morris-Priester and her assembled classmates about the honor. “Oprah was saying my name!” said the shocked Morris-Priester as her fellow students cheered. “You don’t expect Oprah to be talking about you!”

Following graduation, Morris-Priester began an internship at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pa., to be followed by an anesthesiology residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

While at Yale, Morris-Priester served on two national committees aimed at increasing diversity in medicine and dentistry and coordinated the Yale chapter of the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program, which helps disadvantaged students prepare for application to medical and dental school.

During her appearance on Oprah, Morris-Priester learned that AMBI Skincare, a Johnson & Johnson company, will pay her medical school debt. Johnson & Johnson is also establishing a scholarship in her honor to increase the number of minority women in the sciences. Morris-Priester’s role in that effort will surely involve public appearances.

Already a popular speaker at events geared to young people, Morris is most pleased when older members of the audience approach her. “They tell me they’ve put off something they’ve always wanted to do, but after hearing me, now they’re going to give it a try.”

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