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President of the Southern Medical Association Inspired by Late Mom to ‘Be the Doctor I Never Had’

Christopher Jackson, MD, is an associate professor in the UT Health Science Center College of Medicine, Internal Medicine physician at Regional One Health, and the 118th president of the Southern Medical Association.

Christopher Jackson, MD, was inspired by his grandparents to pursue medicine, especially his grandmother, who was a nurse. “She was the first person in my life who told me I could be a physician, and after she passed away, I wanted to pay homage to her desire for me to be a part of health care in some way,” Dr. Jackson said.

Dr. Jackson was recently installed as the 118th Southern Medical Association (SMA) president, becoming the association’s first Black president.

“Being president allows me to guide where their educational programming will go and how we develop the next generation of clinicians who are educators and leaders in the communities and places they find themselves in,” Dr. Jackson said.

He is an assistant dean of Student Affairs, vice chair of Education for the Department of Medicine, associate program director for Curriculum, and associate professor of medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine. He also practices as an Internal Medicine physician at Regional One Health.

“Being the first Black president of this organization, I can call attention to making sure that we are educated on the varied lived experiences of different patients and our colleagues, not only with health care concerns but also things such as mentoring and advising, when it comes to professional development and advancement,” Dr. Jackson said. “To be able to say, whether you talk about access and engagement, we’re trying to create a world where everyone can thrive, not just a select few. I feel proud to say that in our education, we should make sure that we’re not just calling out disparities but also putting out our best practices to help deal with them.”

The Southern Medical Association’s mission is to improve the quality of patient care through multidisciplinary, interprofessional education. As the 2023-24 president, Dr. Jackson said a primary goal is to help further the association’s innovative continuing medical education that meets the needs of diversifying patient groups and health care professionals.

“Wanting to innovate and create a leadership development program that will hopefully allow students and residents to learn what it takes to become an effective leader, and to create a generation of leaders that will go into their local areas and institute chance,” he said.

“A third goal personally is to opine about the importance of weaving thoughts of diversity, equity, and inclusion into everything we do instead of cornering it off as a thing unto itself. I believe that when we have people of different racial, ethnic, and lived experiences participating in caring for people, health care outcomes will improve,” he said. “We know this empirically through studies, even in the literature I know, Black men are more likely to get preventive service things done if there’s racial concordance with the physician in front of them. If we have physicians that understand the financial struggles that some of our patients face, then there might be a lens towards making sure when we get advice that we are keeping in mind what is applicable for our patients.”

Dr. Jackson has been a member of the SMA for eight years, and he served on the association’s Education Committee and as an assistant editor for its peer-reviewed journal, the Southern Medical Journal.

In addition to the encouragement given to him by his grandparents, Dr. Jackson was also drawn into the field after seeing his mother’s battle with diabetes.

“She told me before her death, ‘I wish someone would have impressed upon me the importance of taking better care of myself.’ And she challenged me with something that I will never forget. She said, ‘Chris, be the doctor that I never had,’” he said.

After earning his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Sociology from Emory University in 2011 and his medical degree from Augusta University in 2015, Dr. Jackson came to the UT Health Science Center and completed his internship and residency in Internal Medicine. He also completed a chief residency year at the Lt. Col. Luke Weathers, Jr. VA Medical Center.

“Keeping in mind what my mother said, ‘be the doctor I never had,’ I always knew that advocating for patients and caring about the mission of health care and for those that are under-resourced and underserved, when I came to my interview here (UT Health Science Center), that was a focus that I had not seen in previous interviews I had,” he said. “People were talking about the health care mission, which was inspiring. I said if this is the ethos of which people think, then this is the place I want to be.”

He enjoyed teaching students and fellow residents during residency, forming his interest in becoming an educator. Leading to his current roles in College of Medicine, he has previously served in multiple positions, including assistant professor and program director in General Internal Medicine and assistant clerkship director in the Department of Medical Education.

His current research focuses on educating and creating the ability to practice evidence-based medicine that is more practical for physicians-in-training and current practicing physicians.

“Whether that is doing evidence-based syntheses of clinical practice guidelines, doing summaries of practice-changing articles that physicians can use to better speak with their patients about what things they should or should not consider in terms of therapy options and others, and now it’s getting into how we can create good patient-facing materials as well,” he said.

Anjali Ravee, a fourth-year student in the College of Medicine, is the lead author of their research article. “We collaborated on a clinical guidelines article which was recently accepted to be published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. As Dr. Jackson challenged me to lead our team in writing the paper, I learned how to stand independently as a newcomer to writing manuscripts, a vital skill for my future aspirations of practicing academic medicine,” Ravee said. “If it wasn’t for Dr. Jackson’s insight and guidance over the years, I do not think I would have felt as confident in my decision of specialty and direction of my future career.”

Ravee has received mentorship from Dr. Jackson since her first day as a student. She recently matched into an Internal Medicine residency, and her academic interests include the social determinants of health and preventive medicine.

“Dr. Jackson was pivotal to my journey at UT Health Science Center. As a woman of color, I struggled for years to find mentors who looked like me and understood my life experiences,” Ravee said. “Dr. Jackson was instrumental in connecting me with Internal Medicine attendings, contacts that I was also able to share with my classmates as I got involved in our Internal Medicine Interest Group.”

“I gained an excellent mentor in Dr. Jackson and a lifelong friend. I recommend him to my classmates and first- and second-year students who feel like they need life and career guidance,” Ravee said. “He is a champion for evidence-based medicine and creating welcoming spaces for students to explore their future careers. I hope to have as big an impact on future students as Dr. Jackson has had on me.”

Dr. Jackson has received numerous awards, including being inducted into the UT Health Science Center Academy of Master Educators in 2023 and receiving the Outstanding Teaching Award by the UT Alumni Association in 2022. He became a fellow of the American College of Physicians, International, and a fellow of the Southern Society of Clinical Investigation in 2021. In 2023, he received the Frederick L. Brancati Mentorship and Leadership Award and the Unified Leadership Training in Diversity Award from the Society of General Internal Medicine.