Jhanelle Gray, MD, joined Moffitt in 2007 after completing her hematology/medical oncology fellowship through USF. Now an Associate member of the Department of Thoracic Oncology, she engages in translational research in the area of lung cancer with special emphasis on identifying new molecular targets for the treatment of chemotherapy naïve and resistant lung cancer. Dr. Gray has recently been named program co-leader of Chemical Biology & Molecular Medicine, which has 46 members. Dr. Gray shares how hard work has impacted her career, describes her role in mentoring others and highlights the need for women to make their voices heard.
What excites you right now about the field of oncology and the role that you play in it?
What excites me most are the advances we’ve made in personalized medicine and having an active role in influencing the field. With detailed genetic information I can put together an individual treatment plan for each patient. My research publications allow me to leave a mark on my field.
What book is currently on your nightstand?
My 10-year old twins are reading the book Wonder (a children’s novel written by R. J. Palacio) in school so I am reading it alongside them so we can discuss what Auggie, the boy with a rare deformity, experiences when he enters school outside of the home for the first time in fifth grade.
The other book on my nightstand is Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. It is a very interesting autobiographical story about the South African comedian Trevor Noah who grew up in post-apartheid South Africa as the son of a white father and a black mother and his struggles to fit into racial schemes.
What do you wish others knew about you as a woman physician?
First of all, I would like them to know that I work really hard – my work stands on its own, and nothing has been handed to me. Also, I am very compassionate and consider myself an advocate for the underdog. I advocate for my patients to the nth degree. All people deserve to be treated similarly. As a captain of the cheerleader team in high school, I noticed that some of the other cheerleaders did not always treat others with equality in mind– I challenged them on their behavior and tried to change the dynamics.
What is an epiphany that has shaped you into the physician you are today?
My mom passed away from cancer when I was in medical school. I understand what it means to be told that a person that is incredibly important to you is going to die. Her death really made me stop and assess what is important in life. I was thinking that of all the people who attended her funeral in church only her children will carry her legacy now over 15 years later. So, I vowed to always put my children and family first and spend as much time with them as possible.
If you had the opportunity to meet one particular person who would that be, why and what would you want to talk about?
Michelle Obama – hands down. She is just the most inspiring and captivating leader and role model who is still down to earth. I loved how we referred to her as FLOTUS – the first lady of the United States. Her work for veterans and their families as well as the focus on healthy living for kids was so inspiring and important. I would like to ask her how she dealt with the intense negative press she received - especially in the beginning – for not smiling, for example, which got her the label as being “mean.” How did she deal with that? Should one address something like that directly or how do you process this internally?
What keeps you up at night?
I worry about my kids and things that I was supposed to do. I am always worried that I forgot something. I also think a lot about relationships with people that are strained for some reason or another because I really prefer to resolve conflicts.
What would you like your legacy at Moffitt to be?
There are three things I would like to be my legacy: Having executed research that improved patient outcome, having been generally successful at my job and having been a good mentor, especially for other female, minority physicians who were interested in doing research.
Do you have any advice for other women interested in a career as a physician scientist?
Take your time to figure out what you want to do. Work hard. Speak up. Learn how to say “No,” and be nice to each other.