Doctor, Doctor

Lance Whitehair went from unemployed to M.D. with her MSU Denver degree.

Publish Date: June 23, 2015

Meet Lance Whitehair (B.S. biology ’06): doctor at Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico, assistant chief resident physician of the Southern New Mexico Family Medicine Residency Program, and aspiring professor.

Whitehair hasn’t always had such an impressive resume, however.

Barely graduating from high school, Whitehair developed a drinking problem and in her early 20s was laid off from a data-entry position. “My mother was a single mom and a registered nurse who went back to school herself, so there was no way she could pay for my education,” said Whitehair, who was forced to work entry-level jobs because of her lack of experience and a college degree. “I felt that was my lot in life,” she added.

Eventually, she grew frustrated with her situation and, deep down, knew that education was the answer. “With a degree, I would have to be able to get a decent job,” she said of her decision to begin coursework at MSU Denver in 2003.

Not only does she credit MSU Denver’s faculty for working well with nontraditional students like herself, she credits the University with making education so accessible. “I don’t know that I could have gone to college if it were more expensive,” said Whitehair, who helped subsidize her education with scholarships and grants, and by tutoring other students in math and chemistry.

Step by step, she carved a better path for her future. When MSU Denver’s Biology Department advertised fellowships in cancer research, Whitehair applied and was accepted. Before that experience, she said she simply “wanted to get a college degree and maybe become a lab tech.” But the opportunity to work with an immunologist “put ambition and a work ethic into my life,” she said.

Since earning her bachelor’s in biology in 2006, Whitehair has contributed to The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet Oncology, and earned a doctorate degree in medicine from the University of Minnesota Medical School.

“I will likely be chief resident of my program next year,” she said of the head-doctor-in-training position in her residency. “It is a great honor.” Describing the desert as her home, she hopes to practice full-spectrum family medicine on her home reservation, the Navajo Indian Reservation.

Looking back at her days before MSU Denver, Whitehair is impressed by her own transformation.

“I don’t know if I’d be a physician today if it weren’t for Metro,” she said.