By R.L. Witter
Infectious disease doctor and researcher Linnie Golightly is working diligently at Weill Cornell Medical College at Cornell University. As an infectious disease specialist, she focuses on travel medicine, parasitology, and tropical diseases. While many of us see a pandemic virus as a frightening, once-in-a-lifetime inconvenience, Dr. Golightly has the knowledge and skills to study and treat the virus and experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as a doctor and scientist. And she credits NMF (National Medical Fellowships) as one of the reasons she’s able to do this fascinating and important work.
Born and raised in Michigan, Dr. Golightly originally wanted to be an attorney. “I had this idea that I was in search of truth and justice, so I was going to be a lawyer,” she recalled. “Someone arranged for me to visit a court and I’m not saying it wasn’t about truth and justice, but it seemed to me it was more about winning the game. That was disappointing to me.” Always having had an interest in and talent for science, she decided to pursue a career in medicine. “I sort of wound my way down this path and was successful. I’ve had the good fortune of having many careers within that one career.”
Already an associate professor of Medicine in Microbiology and Immunology and an associate professor of Clinical Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Golightly was appointed associate dean of Diversity at Weill Cornell Medicine, where her focus is on enhancing initiatives to increase underrepresented minority diversity throughout the community. It was that appointment that prompted a hazy memory of NMF to come more clearly into focus. She was asked to attend a dinner “and NMF was sponsoring that dinner for the dean. When I went, I remembered I had received money from NMF… My father had died my freshman year of college and I had to change schools. My mother was trying to pull together money and I decided to come to Cornell. I took out some loans and well, because of my research, I received a grant from NMF. I remember feeling so glad someone had sent me some money and here I was at this NMF gathering.”
It seems fitting that Golightly was reacquainted with NMF at that time. Her work as dean of Diversity included increasing underrepresented minority diversity and NMF’s mission is to provide scholarships and support for underrepresented minority students in medicine and health professions. The assistance NMF had provided so many years ago had given Golightly the opportunity to pay it forward and do her part to help increase the number of physicians of color. It was exactly what NMF was designed to do.
“As an organization it says something about what you value. It’s valuable to the individual, valuable to the pipeline, and valuable to the institution. You put the word out and you say to the institutions, ‘Put your money where your mouth is,’” Golightly said. “The NIH is now looking at all of these initiative programs and how effective they are and what’s really happening. I think that sort of action-driven approach is how NMF is functioning.”
Another thing Dr. Golightly has in common with NMF is a relationship with NMF President and CEO Michellene Davis, Esq. “In speaking with Michellene lately that’s what shows the value. It’s not just sit down and give a little here, give a little there. They’re really asking what is the best way forward moving in partnership with other organizations,” she explained. “She (Davis) spoke here recently and it was such a great talk. Her style is a combination of a sermon and a history lesson and she just pulls you in and engages and challenges people in the audience.” Another thing Golightly noted about Davis’ leadership at NMF is her personal investment. “I like the way she educates the institutions and asks is she going to send her precious students to a not-sogood place?
Dr. Golightly recalls her father’s last words: “Some doors were open to my father and others opened for me. You’ll have the ball and some doors will still be closed. But if the doors open, be ready to walk through.” Golightly added her own twist saying, “You may get to a door and they’re not ready for you; but there are other doors. I don’t have to stand waiting for you. You’re not ready for me.” She closed saying, “Sometimes you realize you don’t have to wait for the door to open. You kick it off the frame and go forward. We control the door. Once we have a seat at the table, use that to affect change from the inside. You’re not always knocking; sometimes you’ll be the one on the other side of the door saying, ‘Hey y’all, we’re in here!’ I’m pleased to persevere; to remember so many people fought for me.”