Dominican Family Spotlight: Dr. Phylliss Chappell

Houston Dominican Family member Dr. Phylliss Chappell possesses many gifts that she freely shares with her palliative care patients, medical students, peers, the Houston Dominican Sisters and Family, and the wider community. Phylliss expresses the Dominican charism through her compassionate listening, spiritual reflections, liturgical dance, and daily life.

Phylliss graduated from Smith College as the first African American woman to graduate summa cum laude, graduated Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and is a veteran of the United States Air Force.  She is board certified in family medicine, hospice and palliative medicine, and radiology; is a fellow of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine; and recently earned a master’s degree in palliative care at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Phylliss has also completed advanced training in mind-body medicine with the Center for Mind-Body Medicine

Phylliss began her medical career as a radiologist but desired a more personal and holistic connection with her patients. She is currently practicing supportive and palliative medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital as well as teaching as an assistant professor. Phylliss learned about the Dominican charism while her daughters attended St. Agnes Academy, a Houston Dominican high school. In 2012 she made her commitment to the Houston Dominican Family* and expressed then that she was committed to extending genuine kindness to everyone she encounters and to practicing compassion, forgiveness, and generosity to others and herself.  

Being part of the Dominican Family has enriched Phylliss’ spirituality and the spirituality of those around her. At Dominican Family gatherings, she has led guided meditations and spiritual reflections and performed prayerful liturgical dance. Phylliss invited the residents of Angela House, a ministry for formerly incarcerated women supported by the Dominican Family, to join her in a project to hand sew hundreds of pocket-sized hearts for her medical students to remind them their patients are whole, human beings rather than simply a diagnosis and to remind these young student doctors also to hold their own hearts gently. 

Phylliss led a workshop on compassionate listening in palliative care at the 2021 International Conference on Communication in Healthcare (ICCH) where she collaborated with Amityville Dominican Sister Barbara Schwarz, who shared her artwork for the presentation. (An article about workshop collaboration was featured in the November 9, 2021, issue of Dominican Life USA.) The two Dominicans met at the annual Dominican Institute for the Arts (DIA) gathering where Phylliss offered a liturgical dance prayer. 

When reflecting on this Spotlight piece, Phylliss cited Quaker elder and educator Parker Palmer who recently wrote, “”My life has been graced, but it certainly hasn’t been graceful – I’ve done more than my share of falling down, getting up, and falling down again. The falling down is due to missteps and gravity. The getting up is due to grace, mediated by people to whom I owe great debts of gratitude.” Phylliss stated, “The Dominican Sisters of Houston and the Dominican Family have oft been sources of that grace which allows me to rise when I’ve fallen, sources of encouragement to take steps in faith even when plagued by fear.”  Phylliss truly embodies the four pillars of Dominican life, and through her gifts, shares the Dominican charism with all whom she encounters.

*The Dominican Sisters of Houston do not have a traditional associate program; instead, the sisters formed the Dominican Family, comprised of non-vowed women and men who commit to the Dominican charism and who walk side by side with the congregation.