‘Beacon for aspiring physicians’ earns top educator award
Published on Monday, April 3, 2023
By: Gary Pettus, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos By: Joe Ellis/ UMMC Communications
Maybe her destiny was sealed the first time she dissected a frog – and then taught everyone else in her 10th grade class how to do it.
At the least, that experience in her biology class was a formative one, and a portent of Dr. Loretta Jackson-Williams’ future as a physician-educator, a career that has accommodated her love of science and her teaching genes.
At the University of Mississippi Medical Center, she has exploited her gift for dissection, as a physician analyzing injuries in the emergency room and as an educator breaking down academic structures to determine how medical students are taught.
For her work in both areas, she has won recognition and honors, but perhaps none is more prestigious than her most recent one: the Career Educator Award from the Southern Group on Educational Affairs – the organization’s highest honor.
“I’m not a big awards person,” said Jackson-Williams, a professor of emergency medicine and vice dean for medical education in the School of Medicine. “However, to have a group that you’ve worked with a long time recognize you is really thoughtful.
“It says to me that people pay attention and appreciate the hard work that you do. In that spirit, I’m grateful.”
She accepted the award in Nashville in late March, during the SGEA 2023 Annual Conference hosted by Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; the theme was “Building the Future of Medical Education Together” – something she could talk about for hours, having just helped oversee a major medical school curriculum redesign that will debut by fall.
“She is truly a distinguished and inspiring educator, physician and leader,” said Dr. John Luk, chair of the SGEA steering committee. “Dr. Jackson-Williams’ service at [UMMC] is a beacon for aspiring physicians.
“She is an amazing role model for our future physicians,” Luk said in his notification to Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine at UMMC.
Woodward and Jackson-Williams have been longtime friends and former colleagues in the Emergency Department.
“Loretta is an accomplished educator and physician and has served our School of Medicine with passion and distinction. She has used her skill and wisdom to focus on improving educational opportunities for our students, leading the development and implementation of several programs to strengthen our commitment to rural health care and a diverse student population. I wholeheartedly congratulate her on this well-deserved award in recognition of her contributions,” Woodward said.
Jackson-Williams has been a part of the Medical Center, continuously, since the late 1990s. Although she earned her MD and PhD at Boston University School of Medicine, the Tougaloo College graduate eventually returned to her home state to practice medicine in the capital city, about a 90-minute drive from her Gentry High School stomping grounds.
In her hometown of Indianola, her high school biology teacher had decreed that she would become a doctor, especially after she was able to teach her classmates the proper way to break down a frog. Blame it on her DNA. She is one of four children whose parents were educators.
If she hadn’t become a doctor, she says, she might have become a teacher. In many ways, she has; for decades now, she has helped shape medical education at UMMC.
In 1999, she joined UMMC’s Department of Emergency Medicine, focusing on student education there. She developed education programs for students and residents; served on, and then rose to chair of, the School of Medicine Curriculum Committee; and became part of the medical school’s administrative team.
After serving for about six years as associate dean for academic affairs, in 2015 she was named vice dean for medical education and her influence grew.
Four years ago, students and residents honored her by choosing her from a slate of nominees to deliver the Last Lecture – an invitation to address them as if delivering some final words of wisdom.
Among her remarks that day was this: “Going to school for an education is like picking up a box of puzzle pieces: You don’t know what it’s going to look like unless you have a picture on the front end.”
Throughout the years, she has helped learners see the big picture, while also attending to the details. To share ideas with her colleagues, she became an active member of the SGEA in 2008, joining what is known as an “affinity group” of the Association of American Medical Colleges whose members include 170 accredited U.S. and Canadian medical schools.
As its website states, the SGEA “fosters excellence along the continuum of medical education.” By awarding Jackson-Williams its top honor, it recognized, among other things, her “sustained and compelling record of educational scholarship for at least the past five years.”
Dr. Jerry Clark, another member of an AAMC affinity group, has worked with Jackson-Williams for years, currently as student liaison in the Office of Medical Education.
“Networking with colleagues, programs and schools across the continent in the AAMC’s affinity group program has really helped us move the needle in terms of quality curricula and services,” said Clark, who won the 2018 Robert “Bob” Sabalis Award for Exemplary Service from the Southern Group on Student Affairs.
“When it comes to giving back, Dr. Jackson has been the prototype. It’s no surprise to me that medical education deans from across the land would singularly recognize her for the efforts she’s made to make medical education better.
“She’s done it, not just an UMMC’s School of Medicine, but also everywhere. The work she’s done the last 15 years has literally touched medical students, even those just applying to medical school, everywhere in the U.S. and Canada.
“I’m proud to say she’s our vice dean and chief academic officer in the School of Medicine.”