M.D. Director, Pediatric Sickle Cell Program, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York City
As a youngster, Millicent Sutton, M.D., was enthralled by her grandmother’s accounts of her duties as a midwife in rural Mississippi. To those who knew her background, it came as no surprise that she would switch to medicine after studying chemistry in college. “My grandmother was a midwife for about 48 years, and I grew up listening to her stories and being fascinated by this woman who raised 10 children, and, at the same time, provided a tremendous service [for the community] at a time when Blacks and whites were still divided,” says Sutton, who runs the pediatric unit of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center Comprehensive Sickle Cell Program.
Her love for research led her to study as a clinical instructor in the Department of Pediatrics at Babies Hospital at Columbia Presbyterian. From there she focused on the study of red blood disorders, primarily sickle cell disease, and the potential therapeutic options for patients affected with these disorders. She has practiced pediatric hematology in New York for the past 20 years.
“I have been extremely fortunate to have been inspired by my mentors, Dr. Kwaku Ohene Frempong and Dr. George Atweh,” Sutton says. “They have provided unyielding support and encouragement from the early years of my training through the various stages of my career development.” In fact, her collaboration with Dr. Atweh led to international acknowledgement of her efforts in pediatric hematology.
As she reflects upon the strides that the medical community has made in understanding sickle cell anemia, Sutton realizes there is still much to do. “One of the challenges that I’ve faced is dealing with disparities in health care as far as minorities are concerned,” she says. “Sometimes, there’s a widespread divide between communities being served and the professionals that serve them. I want to bridge that divide. It goes back to awareness—not just knowledge [of the] disease, but the therapies that are available.”
Her field is neither lucrative nor glamorous, but, says Sutton, when you love what you do, that makes it all worth it.