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Finding a Place to Flourish

Posted on January 15, 2009

Jeannette South-Paul (bio) describes her career path from Army officer to Chair of Family Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.


Currently, I'm chair of Family Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, UPMC. I've been there since 2001 and it's actually my first civilian job since college, because I was an active duty Army officer for 22 years. I paid for medical school through a health professions scholarship and this was something that was really important to me because I'd been in ROTC in college and I felt very strongly that it was important to give back from a public service perspective, but also because I come from a big family and there were six of us within eight and-a-half years and my parents wanted us all to go to college and have careers.

One thing they wanted coming to the United States was for their children to have a solid education. So, I looked at the opportunity to go to school on an army scholarship as an important one because it would allow me freedom from debt, so that I can actually make the career choices I wanted to make.

I chose to start my career that way and I found that the things that I thought I needed to flourish were there and it was a good environment and I felt as if I was treated as an individual and valued as an individual, contrary to what many people think when they are looking at military careers.

Furthermore, when I had interesting ideas, I would bring them to whoever my superior was and I'd saw, "Well, you know, I've noticed that this doesn't go as smoothly as I'd like, how about ," and you know, I'd come and they'd say, "Well, come up with a plan." And invariably, if I could come up with a plan and a way to make it work, I was given a chance. And to me, that type of supportive approach to my creativity really solidified my commitment to a longer career.

I was invited to come to the Uniform Services University. That actually also was a change because it allowed me to be in a unique academic environment; an academic environment that was a government environment, where we had a fairly large medical student population, but also graduate nursing students and biomedical graduate students. And I was able to come in at a time when they were very few women and even fewer minorities active in the university. But also being in the metro Washington area, I had an opportunity to be involved with organizations because of where I was, location-wise, and with the support of the dean and the president of the university at that time, I was able to be very active in the Association of American Medical Colleges, which is located in Washington and a number of organizations, including my own academy, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine.

And so that confluence of mentorship, opportunity, location, and I think the mix of really interesting people with whom I worked, allowed me to see a career in academic medicine as something that was possible as well as could be exciting.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher at the 2008 Leadership Training Institute in Bethesda, MD.


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