October 31, 2014  

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Southern Miss Honors Graduate Plunges Headlong into Medical School

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Southern Miss honors students Jennie Thomas, right, received the Phi Kappa Phi award from Provost Bob Lyman. (Photo by Steve Coleman)

Some freshmen are prepared to confidently plunge into university life; others cautiously test the water with a toe. Jennie Thomas took the plunge.

A head full of red ringlets frame her fair, freckled-face.  A charming smile, a bubbling personality, and sweet Southern manners add the perfect touch to Thomas’ success story. But don’t let her looks and personality fool you; her success is due to her intelligence, drive, dedication, leadership, family, and faith.

Thomas, daughter of Karen and John Thomas, came from Batesville, Miss., to The University of Southern Mississippi on an Honors College Presidential Scholarship funded by College of Health benefactor Beverly Dale. She chose the bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics with a minor in chemistry as her route to the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s School of Medicine.

Reporting from medical school, Thomas said, “My family is my backbone and my entire framework; my parents are the strongest support system I have, and they push me to do and be my best and encourage and love me at the same time.” 

That support system made it possible for her to deal with … “the formaldehyde-filled gross anatomy lab three hours each day, an overflowing toilet, a stolen anatomy textbook and more stuff to study than I can conceptualize” in just the first week. 

Along with her academic studies Thomas shadowed a family practice nurse and a pediatrician. But Thomas isn’t a spectator; she is a participant and a leader. She served as a research assistant for the Delta Obesity Prevention Unit and for MS/LA Water Quality Emergency Preparedness and worked as a retention telecounselor assisting freshmen in their transition to Southern Miss.

She enrolled in the Caribbean Studies Abroad Program, which led her to assist in the painting of the Ocho Rios Primary School in Jamaica. She has embraced leadership roles in eight student organizations and initiatives including the College of Health Ambassadors.

Because of the academic and leadership caliber of the students selected for the Ambassador program, Thomas’ election to president of this organization was in itself a great honor. Her leadership of the Ambassadors was exceptional and it was the program’s most successful year of promoting health through research, education, and service.

Thomas’ leadership resulted in a marked increase in student participation, progression in solidifying the identity of the program on the university campus and in the community, and even the establishment of two college-wide leadership awards.

During her sophomore year at Southern Miss, Thomas went through the interview process that medical school applicants usually endure in their senior year. She applied to the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program. The MS Rural Physicians Board recognized her zeal for medicine, commitment to serving in rural areas, and potential as a physician.

Once selected, she then interviewed with the Admissions Committee at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC). They looked at her potential for matriculating and successfully completing medical school, as well as her fit for UMMC. Once approved, and because her MCAT score and GPA appropriately fell on the established admission scale, she was granted conditional acceptance and direct admission to UMMC medical school.

Meanwhile at Southern Miss, she completed an Honors thesis that examined the effects of self-efficacy, social support, and decisional balance for consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and unsweetened beverages on weight change in 100 female freshmen.

On Founder’s Day Jennie was presented with the Phi Kappa Phi Silver Bowl Award for attaining the highest grade point average (4.0) on the most course credit hours of all graduating seniors and she was one of eight students named to the Southern Miss Hall of Fame.

Through the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program Jennie is obligated to work in a rural (population under 20,000) or medically underserved area (20 miles or more from medical service) in Mississippi for one year for each year she receives scholarship funding. Her plan is to do a combined residency in pediatrics and internal medicine so that she will be board-certified in both and be able to be a specialist for all ages and see all the patients in the same clinic.

Thomas sees a career in medicine as the best way to indulge in her two most intense passions: service to others and taking care of their most important asset--their health. “I feel that the Lord has directed me in such a way that this is the only career I can see myself doing and doing well,” she said.

Medical school — just another opportunity for Jennie Thomas to take a plunge into improving the health and lives of Mississippians.