Dr. Loretta Jackson-Williams draws on her training as an emergency medicine physician to tackle administrative challenges and crises in her role as vice dean for medical education.
Dr. Loretta Jackson-Williams draws on her training as an emergency medicine physician to tackle administrative challenges and crises in her role as vice dean for medical education.
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Front and Center: Loretta Jackson-Williams

Published on Friday, February 11, 2022

By: Gary Pettus, gpettus@umc.edu

Editor's Note: In honor of Black History Month’s 2022 theme, Black Health and Wellness, we want to celebrate the contributions, breakthroughs and cultural richness of Black professionals and students at UMMC. See more Front and Center features.

A colleague of Dr. Loretta Jackson-Williams once compared her to a duck, and she liked it.

“That’s exactly what I feel like,” she said. “A duck on the water.” Graceful on the surface, but paddling like mad underneath.

That does sound like the work she does as vice dean of medical education at UMMC: invisible to most, but indispensable to many.

It’s the kind of work she enjoys and feels compelled to do – administrative work, the kind necessary to educate, to the highest possible degree, the state’s future doctors; to be there for medical students and faculty as well.

Jackson-Williams is a physician herself, a professor of emergency medicine and she’s proud and grateful for the training that prepared her to meet challenges and crises with grace and the essential paddling; now she’s tapping into that experience outside the ER.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” she said.

The Indianola native and Tougaloo College graduate began her journey at the Medical Center 23 years ago.

That was after she had graduated from the Boston University School of Medicine, where she earned her MD and a PhD in biochemistry, and after finishing her residency in emergency medicine, in 1998, at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California.

In 1999, she became a member of the faculty at UMMC, in the Department of Emergency Medicine, teaching students and taking care of patients. But, right away, she was also swimming away in the department’s administrative pond, overseeing clerkships, residents and medical school curriculum.

Step-by-step, she rose to role she has now. Since she began her administrative career at UMMC, Jackson-Williams has seen the entering medical school class grow from 100 to 165; the new Medical Education Building open, in 2017; the School of Medicine navigate re-accreditation; and more.

In 2020, the medical education pond grew a bit larger, thanks to a four-year IMPACT the RACE grant, a $7.6 million award that has endowed her office with the means to help multiply the supply of primary care physicians in the state’s deprived rural areas, through the awarding of scholarships, outreach to high school students, changes in curriculum and much more. 

“The grant has allowed us to be innovative in ways we could only think about in the past,” she said. “And we’re able to do this with an office of phenomenal people who have done amazing work.”

As the years passed, Jackson-Williams moved further away from work in the ER. Still, as a physician, and in her administrative duty to be the face of the school when called to, she served as Legislative Doctor of Day at the State Capitol last Thursday. She was on hand, if needed, to provide emergency medical treatment to lawmakers and staff.

“I miss taking care of patients, but not as much as I thought I would. I’ve compared doing what I do now to being a parent,” said Jackson-Williams, who has two now-grown children with husband James Williams.

“You have to set priorities when your children are growing up; they have only one mom.”

At UMMC, there is only one vice dean of medical education. And that is Jackson-Williams’s priority now, a responsibility she will not duck.