Full Circle

Opportunity, skill — and her mother’s devotion — paved the way

by Tara Smith
Mitzie-Ann Woldegebriel (née Davis) ’02, now a gynecologic oncologist at Piedmont Fayette Hospital in Georgia, was 17 when she left Jamaica with her mother and sisters to settle in Philadelphia. Although she had completed her A-levels under the British system, she hadn’t taken the SATs. So she repeated the last year of high school.

“Sometimes you have to step back to take 10 steps forward,” she says. She quickly adapted and did well, but the landscape of higher education in the U.S. was yet another foreign country.

Mitzie-Ann Woldegebriel ’02
Leticia Andrade
“My story is one of opportunity, disappointment, perseverance, and being open to this human experience called life,” says Mitzie-Ann Woldegebriel ’02.
woldegebriel ’02
Uncertain how to navigate a large Philadelphia college expo, Woldegebriel was grateful when a Swarthmore admissions counselor took the time to talk with her and told her it would be worthwhile to consider Swarthmore. She applied and was admitted.

“But I didn’t understand the breadth of what had happened,” she says. “In my mind, it was just getting into college.”

Financial aid still left “a big chunk” for a single mother to pay.

“I cried tears of joy when Bob Gross called to tell me I’d been selected as a Philip Evans Scholar with a full-tuition scholarship,” says Woldegebriel, now a leading expert in minimally invasive surgeries. “Swarthmore changed my life, the life of my family, and the trajectory of our lives. My mother pushed education, and Swarthmore created a way.”

The gift of this scholarship, in turn, enabled Woldegebriel to change the course of countless other lives. Swarthmore challenged her to think outside the box and gave her the foundation she needed for studying medicine at Temple University. After a residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Pennsylvania Hospital, Woldegebriel pursued a master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins University, then completed her fellowship in gynecologic oncology at the University of California at San Diego.

Along the way, Woldegebriel’s strong faith, loving family, and supportive and perceptive mentors helped her to persevere through the inevitable bumps — from her “sophomore slump” at Swarthmore to her disappointment over not being matched for a fellowship the first time around. “My mother always told me, ‘Never give up, and never let anyone eliminate you,’” she says.

Woldegebriel recently received Temple Medicine’s Emerging Leader Award. The honor felt like a full-circle moment, bringing her back to where her journey began. She and her husband and two young children stayed at the Inn and ate at Sharples. Woldegebriel’s sisters Marissa Davis ’08 and Marsha-Gail Davis ’10 followed her to Swarthmore — and now her son and daughter want to go to Swarthmore, too. “I’m a clinician,” Woldegebriel says of her calling to be on the front lines, providing the best, most comprehensive cancer care for patients. She recounted the story of one young woman, who was diagnosed with both ovarian and endometrial cancer, but desperately wanted to have a child. Going into the surgery, Woldegebriel promised she’d do her best to leave her uterus and an ovary. This patient is now cancer-free and the mother of a beautiful baby girl. While Woldegebriel has received many accolades for her work, her greatest rewards are moments like attending this patient’s baby shower.

“I love my job,” she says. “I feel incredibly blessed.”