One patient who profoundly influenced Dr. Shirley Schlessinger's life is someone whose name she didn't learn and whose fate she doesn't know, but whose plight she'll never forget.
That patient encounter decades ago thrust Schlessinger on the path she followed for much of her career, a career - including more than a quarter century at UMMC as a clinician, educator and administrator - that is slowly winding down.
But, even as Schlessinger's working hours are diminishing, her memories of, and devotion to, her work are not.
“It's painful to leave when you've been here this long and when you've been part of the growth of this program,” said Schlessinger, professor of medicine and associate dean of Graduate Medical Education.
“Part of the reason I'm not retiring right now is I love it here.”
On the UMMC faculty since 1993, Schlessinger is the former interim chair of the Department of Medicine and the one-time program director for the Internal Medicine Residency Program; for the past 13 years she has led the GME program, directing the entire crop of medical residents, today numbering 650, including fellows.
Her professional reputation at UMMC and beyond can also be credited to her dedication to an initiative that is, for her, more of a calling than a job: organ recovery and transplantation.
As a medical student, she met the patient who stoked those allegiances, more than 30 years ago.
“This young woman, 20-25 years old, had end-stage lung and heart disease,” Schlessinger said. “She needed a heart-lung transplant to live.
“Organ donation was in its infancy then, and it struck me how much difference organ donations can make in a person's life and in the lives of those close to that person. Because of her, I went right home that day and got my organ donor card.”
In the long run, she did more than that, becoming medical director for the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency; today she chairs MORA's board.