Because both of her parents are physicians, Jessie Houston grew up with a clinician’s perspective of the medical field. But when she was 15 years old, Jessie also gained a patient’s point of view. That’s when she traveled to St. Jude for treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma. Even though the chemotherapy made her violently ill and the steroids played havoc with her emotions, Jessie recognized St. Jude as a special place.
“Immediately, I noticed that St. Jude didn’t necessarily feel like a hospital,” she says. “I think that was really eye opening for me, because I was used to hospitals having white walls. Instead, there were fish tanks and color. Families were pulling their younger children around in red wagons. And the medical staff—every single interaction I had was incredible. I noticed how hard everybody around me worked to put my needs before their own. I really took it to heart, and it made me want to do the same for other people.”
Jessie says her St. Jude oncologist, Scott Howard, MD, encouraged her interests, which ranged from biology to Spanish.
“He knew I was a Spanish major, so he always took time to talk to me a bit in Spanish, and that was fun,” she says.
The experience cemented her growing aspirations. While awaiting entry into medical school, Jessie is working at South Baldwin Regional Medical Center in Alabama.
“I believe my experiences at St. Jude have helped me have more empathy for the patients I work with,” she says. “I’ve always felt pretty strongly about service—whether it’s community service or just helping other people individually—but my cancer experiences have definitely reinforced that passion.”
Abridged from Promise, Winter 2014