Geraldine Schechter

Geraldine Schechter

Faculty: Emeriti

Professor Emerita of Medicine

Geraldine Schechter was born in New York City and grew up in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, which she remembers as a “wonderful place with many varieties of people.”  She attended local schools and remembers fondly her teachers, who would sometimes check up on her by stopping by the convenience store her parents owned. One of those teachers encouraged her to take the test to get into Hunter College High School, which she eventually attended. She remembers, “Hunter College High School was fabulous because…it was very hard for people in those days that had PhDs to get jobs,” so they came to the high school. She recalls, “There, I had wonderful teachers, and one of them steered me to the Brooklyn Vassar club which gave me a scholarship to go to Vassar College.”

After graduating cum laude from Vassar in 1959, Schechter decided to continue on to the M.D. Program at Columbia University. She asserts, “I always knew that I wanted to go into Medicine” and recalls that “My parents were not well educated - but they came from very educated families in Albania. My father owned a luncheonette where my mother and he worked together. But he, when I was very small, said ‘What do you want to be - a doctor or a dentist?’ And I didn’t want to be a dentist. And he was right…So, I majored in college in chemistry with lots of minors and then got into Columbia, which was terrific.”

Schechter recalls that it was a bit of a shock to go from two all-girl schools to Columbia. The medical school was comprised of 10% women because of a donation given by a female philanthropist to increase the ratio of women to men in the medical school. At Columbia, Schechter became particularly interested in hematology. She recalls, “There were fantastic professors in hematology.” After graduation, Schechter was selected as an intern at the Presbyterian Hospital of Columbia.

Schechter had met her husband at Columbia, and after her internship he got a research associateship at National Institutes of Health.  Schechter undertook a residency in 1965 at the residency at the Veterans Administration Hospital, Washington, DC. There she began focusing on lymphocytes and cellular immunology. After her third year, she began a hematology fellowship and then a research associateship with Dr. Bill McFarland, who eventually took another position at the hospital so that she could come on permanently as a staff physician.  She recalls, "There I was in 1970, after my second child was born, being a staff hematologist. Then…four years later [McFarland] suddenly went to California, and there I was, and I became the Chief of Hematology - and the rest is history.”

Schechter continued her work in cellular immunology and became part of cancer research into t-cell lymphomas and multiple myeloma which was the result of the b-cell lymphomas. She played a part in the discovery of the HTVL-1 Virus. She recounts, “I played a little role…but it was terrific.” An article she co-authored on this topic was published in New England Journal of Medicine in 1972.

In her time at the VA, she also worked with the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Society of Hematology. “The thing that I’m most proud about there was…the support I gave to the hematology education program…” In her work withe the program, Schechter worked to compile a book that described the yearly program that was focused to teach practitioners the art of hematology. It was accepted by the National Library of Medicine on PubMed and continues to be available.

In her affiliation with the George Washington University, Schechter worked with Interns and and Fellows seeing patients on the wards and in clinics at the VA, and teaching them about the disease research. She states,“That was the most enriching thing of all.”

Though Schechter has retired, she hasn't wanted to give up medicine, and so she still works at the VA two days a week. She is also enjoying gardening, reading books for pleasure, and going to the theatre.

Education

A.B., Vassar College, 1959, cum laude
M.D., Columbia University (College of Physicians and Surgeons), 1963
Internship and Assistant Residency, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, 1963-1965

Audio Clip from Interview