Michelle Huyser ’06 remembers the moment she decided not to transfer from Calvin to a different university. Attending a multicultural dinner at DeWit Manor, she was seated next to former President Gaylen Byker. By that time, she had already been accepted as a transfer student to two different schools and a move felt imminent, but talking to Byker changed her mind. 

Surprised by the breadth of Byker’s world travel prior to Calvin, she remembers thinking he could have built a career anywhere, but he felt called to be in Grand Rapids. 

“He said, ‘If I wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be having dinner with this diverse group or having this conversation with you,’ ” Huyser explains. 

“I knew in that moment I was supposed to stay at Calvin. Someone who had all these opportunities to live anywhere in the world felt called and could listen to the call and stay, despite not always feeling comfortable. Ultimately, I felt my own desires paled in comparison to what God wanted me to do.” 

Today, Huyser works as a surgical oncologist at Phoenix Indian Medical Center (PIMC), where she is building a surgical oncology program in partnership with the Mayo Clinic of Arizona from the ground up. A government- run facility with limited resources, PIMC is also chronically understaffed, and getting patients the care they need can be challenging. Huyser identifies patients at PIMC who need large cancer operations that her hospital cannot support. She performs these more complex surgeries at Mayo Clinic, where patients have access to facilities and ancillary subspecialty care needed for successful outcomes. 

Huyser also conducts research on disparities in Native American health care. She hopes defining the problem can lead to improved access to care. “Native Americans are generally hesitant to work with people who are non-Native because of the historical trauma they’ve experienced,” Huyser says, “so the reasons for not getting treatment are often different than for other groups.” Huyser’s research shows that “patients face geographic and cultural challenges to accessing appropriate care, especially cancer care, and often have a distrust of westernized medicine.” Far from leading her to a place of discouragement, however, she feels motivated. 

Huyser grew up in Window Rock, Arizona, the political capital of the Navajo Nation; her Navajo heritage plays an important role in her work. “I feel as though I can help bridge this gap and help communicate difficult health concepts to a vulnerable patient population,” she says. 

Though her parents raised her in the Christian Reformed Church and her family has many ties to Calvin, Huyser remembers she sometimes felt like an outsider on campus. Her childhood experiences vastly differed from many of her Calvin peers, including expressions of faith, cultural values and traditions, and even the landscape and weather. 

Huyser majored in biology and, as she studied, grew to appreciate Michigan’s climate and ecosystems. She found mentors in professors Dave Warners and John Beebe. “They helped me see my interaction and place within the world differently, especially our responsibility as Christians to be stewards of creation and to protect and advocate for the voiceless,” Huyser says. 

She at first planned to pursue a PhD in restoration ecology, but she found she missed interacting with people. Huyser’s parents had always encouraged her and her four siblings to pursue their passions, believing that God would use their children’s gifts to “accomplish his will through them.” A career in medicine, Huyser decided, would be a natural extension of her love of science and her desire to help others. 

Huyser has chosen a challenging career path; to become a surgeon in a subspeciality like oncology takes more than a decade of post graduate study and practice, and the demands and hurdles of providing cancer care to patients at a resource-limited medical facility are many. Yet she says that “even when things get difficult, I have always believed what I am doing is bigger than me and part of God’s plan. I just have to stay true to his vision, not my own, and the path will be laid out before me.”