It's the thrill of research and teaching the next generation of physicians at the University of Mississippi Medical Center that gets Dr. Thomas Adair up and going each day.
Keisha Forrest heads to her desk at the adult hospital admissions office focused on helping patients.
For Carla Gill, a nurse manager in the neonatal intensive care unit, it's all about the babies.
There are more than 10,000 reasons why working at UMMC is a dream job, each as unique as every employee, but Jackson Free Press readers made it official. UMMC beat out finalists Mangia Bene, Mississippi Children's Museum, Soulshine Pizza Factory and St. Dominic Hospital to win the title of “Best Place to Work” in Jackson Free Press' annual Best of Jackson survey.
Best of Jackson, the publication's annual reader poll, seeks nominations from Jackson Free Press readers in more than 100 categories, including people, restaurants, retail shops and businesses. Readers then vote on finalists to pick the best.
“This is our 14th annual Best of Jackson reader poll,” said Todd Stauffer, publisher of Jackson Free Press and BOOM Jackson magazine. “In November of 2015, we opened up the nominations ballot for the 2016 contest. Readers used that write-in ballot to nominate their favorite people, businesses and organizations in over 100 categories. We then counted those nominations, determined the top five or six finalists in each category and released the finalists ballot in December.
“Using the multiple-choice Finalists ballot, our readers selected the winner in each category. Those Winners were photographed, written about, and ultimately announced to the public in the Best of Jackson 2016 issue of the Jackson Free Press that hit the streets on Jan. 27.”
UMMC was the first to be named “Best Place to Work” since this is the first year the category has been included, Stauffer said.
“We were very intrigued to see the places that were nominated, which ran the gamut from small to large local employers,” he said. “The fact that UMMC ultimately won the honor suggests that a lot of UMMC folks really like their jobs!"
Said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, in the latest edition of VC Notes: “I was proud that UMMC was voted as the 'Best Place to Work' by the readers of the Jackson Free Press. We probably have an edge in the voting since we're one of the largest, if not the largest, employers in Mississippi. But the fact that some of our staff feel enough pride in working here to take the time to vote absolutely warms my heart. And I couldn't agree with you more.”
The culture of caring and commitment is what sets UMMC apart, said Michael Estes, chief human resources officer.
“Not a day goes by that we haven't touched someone's life in the state of Mississippi,” he said. “It is a privilege to be part of what we do, and I'm pleased other people recognized that with this award.”
Home of Mississippi's only Level I trauma center, only Level IV neonatal intensive care unit, only children's hospital, only transplant program and only poison control center, UMMC is the site of groundbreaking research to battle illnesses including cancer, sickle cell anemia and Alzheimer's disease.
Comparing UMMC to “a small city,” with 9,500-plus employees and some 20,000 people on the UMMC main campus each day, Estes says UMMC has a culture that keeps employees looking forward to each day.
“There are many reasons I work at UMMC,” said Forrest, a patient access specialist in the adult hospital admissions office, “but mostly it is the direct contact with patients and helping them during a difficult time.”
Said Estes: “We don't pay the most of any place in Jackson, and while we have good benefits, there are places that offer better. We expect a lot out of people, but they rise to the challenge and go beyond. That's the spirit of this place, a spirit of caring, of commitment and of community.”
That, for many employees, makes their positions their purpose instead of being solely a paycheck.
Judge Cowan, a 25-year employee who supervises the painting department, said the benefits at UMMC got him interested, but the work made him stay. “If you don't mind working, this is a great place to be,” he said. “I like to work, so I went with working at UMMC and fell in love with it here.”
Dr. Susana M. Salazar Marocho, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Biomedical Materials Science, said the appreciation UMMC shows toward its employees makes it an ideal work environment. “In addition to supplies and high-quality equipment that are renewable resources, every employee is treated as a valuable human resource with opportunities to grow in his career, not just from a promotion standpoint but also in terms of professional development through journal clubs, seminars, webinars, career opportunity and professional development lectures. I have found diversity and equality at UMMC. We all work together by developing, caring, speaking, listening, inspiring, celebrating, and sharing with one another.”
The joy of working at UMMC is not only evident on campus, but outside as well, she said. “Whenever we meet somebody new, we proudly say, 'We work at UMMC.' More than just the department where we work, we are proud to say that UMMC is where we work.”
Adair, a professor in physiology and biophysics and a 35-year employee, agrees. “This is an awesome place to work. When people come here, they tend to stay. We have really good people, always have, and our eyes are always on the future.”
Gill has found her calling in helping babies in the NICU, but that's not the only reason she loves the U. “I love the excitement of all we do,” she said. “We're at an academic medical center and at the state's only Level IV NICU. There are breakthroughs that only happen here.”
“How often,” Estes asked, “do you get a chance to be a part of something so significant, something that benefits all of us?”