Dr. Sam Dickinson keeps musical instruments from a kalimba to a keyboard on hand at the School of Nursing.
Dr. Sam Dickinson keeps musical instruments from a kalimba to a keyboard on hand at the School of Nursing.
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Front and Center: ‘Community of UMMC’ close to heart of Dr. Samuel Dickinson

Published on Monday, January 22, 2024

By: Annie Oeth, aoeth@umc.edu

Photos By: Melanie Thortis/ UMMC Photography

Like the musical notes in a melody, the University of Mississippi Medical Center is woven into the lives of Dr. Sam Dickinson, his wife Irene, and their daughter, Janet Faye.

Beginning his career writing music for the daytime dramas “Guiding Light” and “As the World Turns,” Dickinson’s life included all the twists and turns of a soap opera as he transitioned to a nursing career and eventually on faculty in the School of Nursing.

A search for tomorrow

Dickinson’s journey to a nursing career started on a musical path. He attended William Carey University in Mississippi then moved to Middle Tennessee State University, where he earned his BS degree, majoring in business management with an emphasis in the recording industry, and a double minor in business administration and music. He then went to work for BMI, a performance rights organization where he calculated royalties and maintained relationships with publishers, songwriters, and artists.

Dickinson sings “Stormy Monday” while playing guitar.

His own songwriting career began in 2003 when he collaborated with other musicians and producers to create music for scenes in daytime dramas.

“We would get requests for music to accompany a scene where a character was perplexed or pensive or joyful, and we would write music that conveyed those feelings,” he said.

While music is still a love – as evidenced by the keyboard and various instruments from around the world in his office – Dickinson felt a stronger calling. “I didn’t feel like I was living a life with meaning,” he said. “I began to do a reassessment of my life.”

His brother losing a battle with addiction and his own battle with depression were the catalysts that pointed Dickinson toward psychiatric nursing. “I thought if I could help one person, my life would mean something," he said. “I want to show up for others.”

Dickinson earned his BSN from the School of Nursing in 2014 and worked his first year as a nurse at Select Specialty Hospital in Jackson where he was nominated for the Rookie of the Year Nightingale Award. He then transferred to work at UMMC’s bone marrow transplant unit where he worked for many years and earned 12 DAISY nominations. Dickinson enrolled in the UMMC DNP program and earned his doctorate in 2023, following which he joined the School of Nursing faculty.

Dickinson’s nurse manager, Dr. Pam Farris, and his mentor, Dr. Carl Mangum, encouraged him to go back to school to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner. The signs that his next step would be into a School of Nursing classroom became apparent.

“Pam talked to me about it, and I gave it some thought,” Dickinson said. “I realized that one of my favorite things at work was precepting, I love teaching nursing students, new nurses, and patients.”

He continued working full-time while studying as a full-time student, completing his DNP in psychiatric-mental health with a 3.96 grade-point average.

Dr. Sam Dickinson laughs with accelerated nursing students, from left, Wiltz Cutrer, Morgan Wallis, Ainsley Betcher and Emma Beebe after class.
Dickinson laughs with accelerated nursing students, from left, Wiltz Cutrer, Morgan Wallis, Ainsley Betcher and Emma Beebe after class.

One life to live

The roots of Dickinson’s close relationship with the Medical Center run deeper than his degrees and nursing practice. He credits UMMC’s staff for saving his life after a cycling accident in 2020 and his wife’s life following the birth of their daughter in 2023. He says “the UMMC community ensured that I never felt alone. We always had somebody there helping us.”

The cycling accident happened along Old Fannin Road. “I was in the cycling lane and don’t know what happened. I had ridden 35 miles and don’t know if I was dehydrated, hit a slippery patch, or got hit.”  When he looked up, Dickinson found himself in the middle of the road with broken bones and a cracked bike helmet. A woman in scrubs came running to him.

“She ensured I was safe, gave me a full neurological examination, and helped me get in touch with my wife,” he said. “I asked her name, and she said ‘Faith’ and that she worked at UMMC. My wife’s name in Mandarin, Zhihui, means wisdom. It occurred to me that in my moment of need, Faith brought me to ‘wisdom.’”

Dickinson’s care at UMMC included surgery by Dr. William Geissler, professor of orthopaedic surgery, for a broken clavicle. “The plate he used to align my collarbone was one he invented,” Dickinson said.

The Dickinsons, Irene from Guangzhou, China, and Samuel from Gulfport, met in 2011 when a fellow nursing student introduced them. They would travel back and forth for a year and eventually marry. Sam moved to China to be with his new wife, and while they worked out immigration and she finished her work with the British Consulate, he got jobs teaching English to Chinese citizens and consulting the British Consulate on the Paralympics. The Dickinsons then moved back to the U.S.

Dickinson created this video as an introduction as part of the DNP program at the UMMC School of Nursing. At the time, he was a nurse in the bone marrow transplant unit.

When they were ready to start a family, they would encounter difficulty. Following 10 years of trying, the couple turned to Positive Steps Fertility where, after many heartbreaks and unsuccessful attempts, their daughter was delivered by Dr. Amber Shifflett, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, at Wiser Hospital for Women and Infants. Their joy soon was overshadowed by fear as Irene, who has a history of a myomectomy, hemorrhaged.

“The best day of my life was turning into the worst day of my life,” Dickinson said. “I didn’t know if I was going to lose my wife. I was a wreck and couldn’t even think. I didn’t know how to do life without her.”

Dickinson saw his friend, Scott Sims, respiratory therapist, walk in as part of the rapid response team. “When I saw Scott, I felt so relieved because I knew she was in the best hands at UMMC, and the whole team was taking care of her.”

Irene was moved to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. “Those are my people,” said Dickinson, who had often worked with the CICU team as a BMT nurse. “If anyone could save her life, they could.”

And they did. Irene, a Mississippi College School of Law graduate, celebrated her daughter Janet Faye’s first birthday this month. “Janet comes from my mother’s name, Janet,” he said, “and Faye comes from (neurosurgery nurse practitioner) Faith Duggar, who saved my life on Old Fannin Road.”

As a faculty member, Dickinson hopes to use his experiences and his nursing knowledge to foster empathy and excellence among his students.

Dr. Marlie Farrar, fellow accelerated nursing assistant professor, thinks this will be one of his strengths in the classroom.

Marlie Farrar

“He’s not afraid to share his story, and he uses elements of it to relate to others,” she said. “I think one of the best tools in his toolkit is humor. He can make others laugh and be comfortable around him quickly. His diverse background allows him to relate to others on multiple levels. I’m excited to see how he adds to the SON’s culture of excellence. He truly wants the best for the students because he understands the gravity of the job they’re preparing to do. We are blessed to have his down-to-earth personality and energy in the school.”