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Dr. Donna M. Christian-Christensen

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1945

Medical School

The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences


District of Columbia
Virgin Islands

Career Path

General medicine: Family
Administration: Government
Dr. Donna M. Christian-Christensen


Dr. Christian-Christensen was the first woman delegate from the United States Virgin Islands.
Dr. Christian-Christensen was the first woman to represent an offshore Territory.
Dr. Christian-Christensen is the first woman physician in the history of the U.S. Congress.


I got a United Negro College Fund booklet... it talked about the need for health providers of color — specifically physicians.

I think I was always interested in some kind of a service career. I thought about nursing, I liked the laboratory, so I initially went into Medical Technology as my major in college. And then one day, I got a United Negro College Fund booklet about encouraging young minorities to go into medicine. And I really picked it up for a friend of mine; but I read it, and I changed my mind overnight. I decided to go into medical school. I was not in pre-med — and in reading it, it talked about the need for health providers of color —s pecifically physicians — and I guess it made such a strong case that it made me change my mind.

I would say that I had had an opportunity to work in laboratories and occasionally get out of the lab to go to patient's rooms to draw blood, or to take information, and I really preferred working with people to working with test tubes. So probably the change started back then, just from interacting with people.


Dr. Donna M. Christian-Christensen served nine terms in the U.S. congressional representative (non-voting) for the United States Virgin Islands. She took her responsibilities as a representative well beyond health care policy, and was firmly committed to improving quality-of-life by addressing those issues that influence the environment we live and survive or prosper in.

Donna Christian was born in 1945 in Teaneck, New Jersey into a prominent family with roots in St. Croix. While she had always wanted some kind of career helping people, and had at one time been interested in pursuing nursing, it was not until her sophomore year of college that a favor for a friend awakened her to the possibility of becoming a physician. "One day, I got a United Negro College Fund booklet about encouraging young minorities to go into medicine. And I really picked it up for a friend of mine, but I read it, and I changed my mind overnight. I decided to go to medical school." She went on to train at the George Washington University School of Medicine.

In her sophomore year of medical school, she made a decision that would change her life. In the summer of 1968, when she "should have been studying for her boards," she volunteered to provide medical services for a political event in Washington, DC, called the Poor People's Campaign. "It was kind of a tough trek for many people to come from all over the country," Christian remembered, "and it poured. The tents were set up in mud, and that's where we worked for about two weeks." She spent an entire day with a young woman who had come from the South without any family, and she had a sexually transmitted disease. Since Donna Christian was the only woman physician in the van at the time, she was assigned to take care of the young patient and complete her diagnosis and treatment.

Christian realized how important her work could be in the lives of young people, and went home with an interest in adolescent medicine. She chose to study family practice, and to rotate through psychiatry, pediatrics, and obstetrics-gynecology. "I thought that was a great preparation. And of course when I got home, the need was for a family physician. And that's what I became."

Dr. Christian earned her doctor of medicine degree in 1970 from the George Washington University School of Medicine. She completed her residency in family medicine at Howard University Medical Center, and in 1975 worked as an emergency room physician in the Virgin Islands. She served as staff physician at the Maternal and Child Health Program between 1975 and 1976, and was medical director of the Nesbitt Clinic in Frederiksted until 1978. She became director of the Frederiksted Health Center in 1980, the director of Maternal and Child Health and Family Planning in 1985, and the medical director of the St. Croix Hospital in 1987. From 1988 until 1994, she served as the Territorial Assistant Commissioner of Health and as the Acting Commissioner of Health from 1994 to 1995. She maintained a private practice from 1975 until her election to Congress in 1996.

Dr. Christian has two daughters, Rabiah and Karida Green, and a granddaughter Nia Elena Hamilton. In 1998, Dr. Christian married Chris Christensen and joined his family of two daughters, Lisa and Esther, and two sons, Bryan and David.

As chair of the Congressional Black Caucus's (CBC) Health Braintrust since 1998, Congresswoman Christian-Christensen led the effort to oversee and advocated on minority health issues on the national and international level. She remains at the forefront of bringing minority health concerns to the attention of national policymakers.

In addition to chairing the CBC's Health Braintrust, Dr. Christian-Christensen co-chaired the Friends of the Caribbean Caucus. She was a member of the House Committee on Small Business and its subcommittee on Rural Enterprises. She was the ranking member of the Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands of the House Committee on Resources. In 2003, she was named to the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, where she worked on oversight of the public health infrastructure. She was also the recipient of many national, regional, and local awards. In May 2003, she was named to Ebony magazine's list of the 100 Most Influential Black Americans.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

I think I was very lucky. I had, I had a family that was very supportive. I had a community that was very supportive. And I grew up in a community that was almost all minority. And I think that we didn't see the possibility of race standing in our way, or ethnicity or language standing in our way as we were growing up. So we were not afraid to aspire to do whatever we wanted to do, and to pursue that. So I think I was very lucky.

I attended religious schools, and I think they provided me with a good foundation as well, and, they were small schools. And they were always, each school that I attended was very supportive in helping me to pursue whatever the next step was.

I had doubts. I had people who would say to me, "No, I don't think you should go into medical school, it's too hard," or whatever, and I never knew why they would say that, you know to a person, instead of being encouraging. But you run into people like that. And it's important that you not let someone's own impression, or their limitations, or their perceived limitations of you, to stand in the way of what you think you ought to be doing.

I think I was very, very blessed, and very fortunate to be able to do what I'm doing, and not have some of the obstacles that many others do have.

How do I make a difference?

I think it's really important for young people of color to see people of their own racial or ethnic background in positions like mine — not only on the political front, but also as a health care provider — so that they will know that: yes, it's possible for them. Because sometimes in their day-to-day environment it may not seem that way. So I think it's really encouraging for them to see us and to interact with us up here.

Who was my mentor?

I think the main people who were influences in my life were my grandmother, my mother, and my father and they were all involved in serving their community in one way or another. My grandmother was an educator; my mother was a social worker; my father was an attorney, a community attorney. And I think they influenced me more than anyone else. Just being involved with their community, and being very giving people, probably has something to do with why I ended up here.

How has my career evolved over time?

I did a family practice residency, and immediately the day after I finished my residency, I went home to the Virgin Islands. And within a few weeks I was working as an emergency room physician in the town of Frederiksted in St. Croix, and a year later or so, opened up my own private practice. And when I did that, I was just filling in for someone. Because we weren't allowed to work emergency room and also do private practice. So I was filling in for someone who was leaving for two weeks, and they never came back. And so I ended up in the private practice of medicine.

But I didn't originally plan to be a family physician. My interest was in adolescent medicine came about when I was at Resurrection City — the Poor People's Campaign here in Washington in the summer of 1968 — when I should have been studying for my boards, but I went to volunteer there. And I spent an entire day with a young woman who had come up from either Alabama or Mississippi without any family, and she had a sexually-transmitted disease; and I was the only female in the medical van at the time, and so I was assigned to take care of her and take her through the whole diagnostic evaluation and the treatment — which was a bit tough for her to go through — and, through that experience, I decided I wanted to work with adolescents.

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