UMMC-trained siblings follow winding road back to Mississippi
By Matt Westerfield
During the off season as a minor league baseball pitcher in the late 1990s, Dr. Jeremy Jackson sat in on one of his older sister’s gross anatomy lectures at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Like his sister, Dr. Lana Jackson, Jeremy had always been interested in the sciences and felt that medicine might be a good option once his baseball career came to an end. And sure enough, by 2002 he was a UMMC student, following in his sister’s footsteps.
That's not to say Lana Jackson's path to medical school was traditional; hers followed eight years of service in the Air National Guard and pharmacy school
. But despite their winding roads, the siblings from Meridian are a team once again, having both accepted faculty positions at the Medical Center in July, filling in key roles in the departments of Dermatology and Otolaryngology.
"My high school had a pretty strong science emphasis, so my sister and I both did well in that area; we both liked the sciences," said Jeremy, assistant professor of dermatology "She's four years older than me. It seemed like that was how we always thought we'd end up — in medicine."
But first Jeremy would go to the big leagues. A 6-foot-4 left-handed pitcher, Jeremy played for Mississippi State
during his college years and was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in 1998. After a year and a half he was traded to the New York Mets before arm injuries effectively ended his baseball career in 2000.
"It was just years of pitching and wear and tear," he said. "My arm troubles became more and more persistent, and one day I thought, 'If I'm going to play this for a 10-year career … it hurts too much to keep doing what I'm doing.'"
After being released by his team at 25 years old, Jeremy spent a year teaching science and coaching baseball at Jackson Prep before enrolling at UMMC.
Meanwhile, his sister was set to graduate and begin residency training in otolaryngology at the Medical College of Georgia.
"Right out of high school I joined the Air National Guard," Lana said. "My dad was a career military man, and it suited my personality. I learned a lot, and it really helped to focus me. It was a very good decision, and I'd do it over again."
After her six-year commitment, Lana re-enlisted for another two years and at the same time earned her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Ole Miss in 1997.
"I really liked seeing patients while I worked for a year at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo as a pharmacy resident, and I knew that I wanted to pursue a medical degree," she said.
Originally leaning toward internal medicine, Lana says she discovered an interest in otolaryngology during a weeklong surgical subspecialty rotation during her third year.
“I think I knew immediately that’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “From the first day I just enjoyed it. Couldn’t’ imagine doing anything else,” she said.
Lana was serving as assistant professor of surgery at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta when she received a phone call from Dr. Scott Stringer, chair of Otolaryngology and Communicative Sciences
, asking if she’d be interested in joining UMMC. She decided it was the right time to move back to Mississippi.
“I’d like to say the good lord just opened the right door,” she said. “And maybe He used Dr. Stringer to do it.”
Meanwhile, Jeremy joins a fledgling department of Dermatology under the stewardship of Dr. Robert Brodell, professor and chief of dermatology, who joined the Medical Center earlier this year. Jeremy met Brodell at a conference two years ago and realized the need for Mississippi to train it’s own dermatologists.
“That’s one reason why having a program here is so vital because if people come and train here they’re more likely to practice here,” Jeremy said. “I wanted to come back home, but I wanted a program to come home to. Dr. Brodell just took it to next level.”
Lana, whose husband is a transplant surgeon at the Medical College of Georgia, is getting to spend much more time with her brother’s family since relocating to Mississippi this summer. The siblings have yin and yang personalities. Jeremy credits his days on the mound for his cool demeanor, explaining that during a game he would focus on not getting overly excited nor dejected when things didn’t go his way. On the other hand, in spite of her military background, Lana brings the spunk and enthusiasm to the dynamic.
“She loves being an aunt,” said Jeremy, who is married with two sons and a daughter. “That’s the fun part, seeing her with the kids every day. We haven’t been in the same place since we were in high school.”
Both Lana and Jeremy credit their parents, Donald and Kathy Jackson of Meridian, for imparting the traits that led them into medicine.
“They taught us the confidence and discipline to be successful,” Jeremy said. “I don’t think I appreciated their sacrifices enough, but our parents allowed us to change our lives and be successful.