By Betsy Simon
Jun 17, 2019
Ask Rachael Schulte, ’08, to sum up her four years at Indiana State University in a few words and she can’t.
But when you read her responses, you quickly understand why.
“I have incredibly fond memories of my time at ISU! It was hard to narrow down my answers to some of the questions because I had so many amazing experiences at ISU,” she wrote in an emailed response about her experience at State.
Schulte spent most of her early years living about an hour south of Terre Haute and was familiar with the city and with State, which also offered her a President’s Scholarship. It didn’t take her long, though, to know she made the right decision.
“The size of ISU, in my mind, was perfect. Large enough to have many opportunities for its students, but small enough that apart from a few freshman-level courses, class sizes were not enormous and most of my professors knew their students by name,” she said. “I had ample opportunities to become actively involved in research in the department of chemistry almost from my first day at ISU, which is not something that happens at many institutions.”
Schulte started working with Richard Fitch in second semester of her freshman year and worked in his lab from then until graduation.
“I am so grateful for the opportunities I was provided in the department of chemistry, both to conduct research which led to a publication and numerous presentations at scientific meetings, and to serve as a supplemental instructor which gave me teaching experience,” she said. “The American Chemical Society Student Affiliates group was also very helpful for me, as it allowed me to gain additional leadership and community service experience.”
Schulte credits these opportunities to bolstering her medical school applications to medical school, but her opportunities extended beyond the department of chemistry.
“I gained great mentors and friends through other ISU organizations, including the Pre-Med Association and the President’s Scholars Association,” she said. “I was also a member of the Sycamore Singers choir all four years at ISU, and having this on my medical school application gave me something interesting to talk about in interviews and I think helped me be a more well-rounded person during my time at ISU since I love to sing and having a creative outlet is a great way to relieve stress.”
For Schulte, her ability to be deeply involved in research in the department of chemistry had the greatest bearing on her career.
“Even now, people are impressed with my curriculum vitae since I have a publication and numerous presentations at scientific meetings from my undergraduate career,” she said. “My experience in research at ISU also helped me be able to be successful in research in medical school, residency, and fellowship.”
Among the department of chemistry faculty most instrumental in helping Schulte achieve her goals, she said, was Richard Fitch whose lab she worked in, Eric Glendening, who served as department chair during her time as a student, and Richard Kjonaas, an organic chemistry professor with engaging lectures and labs.
Even her involvement in the Pre-Med Association allowed Schulte to learn from older students and take those lessons with her into medical school.
After graduation, Schulte started medical school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and graduate with her medical degree in 2012. She was matched at Vanderbilt for her three-year residency training in pediatrics, which she completed in 2015, and then matched at Vanderbilt for her three-year fellowship training in pediatric hematology/oncology, which she completed in 2018.
Concurrent with her clinical fellowship, Schulte was a research fellow in the Division of Clinical Pharmacology at Vanderbilt for two years through which she conducted her fellowship research project and completed Vanderbilt’s two-year Master of Science in Clinical Investigation degree.
After completion of her clinical fellowship training in June 2018, she stayed at Vanderbilt for an extra year to work on her research and interview for jobs that year.
“I am thrilled to say that I have recently accepted a position as an assistant professor in pediatric hematology/oncology at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis and will be starting in this position in October 2019,” she said. “My husband, Mike, and I are thrilled to be returning to Indiana since we both grew up there and attended ISU together, though we have loved living in Nashville for the 11 years we have been here.
“I love being a physician, and the field of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology has given me the opportunity to be in a field that constantly challenges me intellectually while also being very fulfilling on a personal level, as I feel I am truly making a difference every day in the lives of my patients and their families.”
As a pediatric hematology/oncology physician, Schulte participates in clinical care and in research.
“Some days I am in clinic and see patients with blood disorders or cancers, either as new patient visits where I may be providing a consultation for their primary care doctor, or as a follow-up visit for patients I am actively managing,” she said. “I order and interpret laboratory tests, order chemotherapy, plan imaging studies that are needed to follow treatment progress, and spend a lot of time talking with patients and their families about their diagnosis, treatment plan, and prognosis. Sometimes I am managing the inpatient hematology/oncology service, where I take care of patients in the hospital.”
As a physician on this team, Schulte oversees residents, medical students, and nurse practitioners on the team as they care for our complex patients.
“My research is in precision medicine in pediatric oncology. Specifically, my main research project has been looking at a chemotherapy regimen called high-dose methotrexate and why there is so much variability between patients in how their bodies process this drug,” she said. “My project has sought to use variation in certain genes to help explain this. I will be submitting a manuscript from this project for publication in summer 2019.”
For Schulte, the best part is being able to help patients and families walk through a new diagnosis and try to make their experience the best it can be in the face of many challenges.
“I love getting to know my patients and their families and forming strong relationships with them during the time of their treatment and post-therapy follow-up,” she said. “My passion for the future is to be involved in clinical trials and the discovery of new drugs and combinations of drugs to treat pediatric cancers. To do this, I will use the knowledge I gained through my degree in Chemistry at ISU as well as my training at Vanderbilt.”