Honorees or their representatives at the Medical Alumni Awards dinner are, front row, from left, Dr. Gerry Ann Houston, Dr. Summer Allen and Dr. J. Clay Hays Jr.; back row, from left: Dr. Jennifer Garrett, representing Dr. James J. Corbett; Dr. Claude D. Brunson; Marsha Thompson, representing the late Dr. Ed Thompson Jr.; and Dr. Shirley Dreux Schlessinger.
Honorees or their representatives at the Medical Alumni Awards dinner are, front row, from left, Dr. Gerry Ann Houston, Dr. Summer Allen and Dr. J. Clay Hays Jr.; back row, from left: Dr. Jennifer Garrett, representing Dr. James J. Corbett; Dr. Claude D. Brunson; Marsha Thompson, representing the late Dr. Ed Thompson Jr.; and Dr. Shirley Dreux Schlessinger.
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They ‘made our profession better’: Hall of Fame pays homage to distinguished physicians

Published on Monday, July 31, 2023

By: Gary Pettus, gpettus@umc.edu

Photos By: Jay Ferchaud/ UMMC Communications

The Medical Alumni Chapter Hall of Fame acknowledged five new inductees; a Distinguished Medical Alumnus and the third recipient of the Medical Early Career Achievement Award during the Medical Alumni Awards dinner Friday in Jackson;

A roster of “Golden Graduates” was honored as well, with medallions recognizing the 50th anniversary of their medical school graduation from the University of Mississippi Medical Center.    

In her welcoming remarks, Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, applauded the group of “outstanding physicians … people who have made our profession better.

“Thank you for what you have done for the people of Mississippi.”

Since 2012, the Hall of Fame has recognized current or former faculty members, living or deceased, who have made outstanding contributions to the Medical Center, Mississippi and the nation. The Distinguished Medical Alumna/Alumnus Awards have, since 2010, saluted graduates for their achievements in research, education, clinical care, health service administration, or public/civic duties.

Now in its third year, the Medical Early Career Achievement Award spotlights an “accomplished young alumna/alumnus who has made outstanding contributions to the health care field within 15 years of receiving their medical degree.” 

2023 Distinguished Medical Alumnus

Portrait of Dr. J. Clay Hays Jr.

J. CLAY HAYS JR. is an eminent interventional cardiologist whose passion for the city of Jackson and his home state of Mississippi is reflected in the many leadership roles he has assumed in government and on behalf of his profession.

Hays, who grew up in Jackson, graduated from the University of Mississippi and, in 1991, received his medical degree from the School of Medicine.

The son of physician, Dr. James Clay Hays Sr., he completed his internal medicine residency at the Mayo Clinic and a cardiology fellowship at UMMC. He also earned an MBA from Brandeis University. 

“UMC is such a great institution,” Hays said. “I see so many people I’ve been inspired by and my classmates.

“I’ve always wanted to come back home, and it’s because of the people in this room. My dad always told me, ‘You’ll never be around a finer group of people or physicians. Particularly the physicians of Mississippi.’”

Hays serves as president of the Jackson Heart Clinic and is a past president of the Mississippi State Medical Association. For the American Medical Association, he is the current chair of the Southeastern Delegation.  

He has served the state’s last three gubernatorial administrations, including as chair of the COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee, chair for the Mississippi Healthcare Solutions Institute and chair of the Governor’s Task Force for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention.  

He is the secretary of the Medical Assurance Company of Mississippi board and serves on the boards of Trustmark National Bank and the Great City Mississippi Foundation. His current or former current leadership roles also include those for the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, Jackson Heart Foundation and Lefleur East Foundation.

Hays is also contributing to the work of the Museum Trail project which promotes health and wellness for the community. 

—  —  —

2023 Early Career Achievement Awardee

Portrait of Dr. Summer Allen

SUMMER ALLEN, a 2010 graduate of the School of Medicine, has already distinguished herself in the field of pulmonology.

Originally from Dallas, she completed her undergraduate degree in Texas and taught school for several years before deciding to pursue a medical career after working as a drama teacher and waitress.

The desire to be a physician was “re-ignited,” she said, after her grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer.

“I was so frustrated because I couldn’t understand what was wrong with him and I wanted to know,” she said.

After medical school, she also completed her residency and a fellowship in pulmonary critical care at UMMC and was chief fellow her last year in school.

Currently working as a pulmonologist and intensivist at Memorial Health System and Merit Health in Biloxi, she particularly enjoys using navigational bronchoscopy to biopsy lung nodules and diagnose lung cancer at an early stage.

In Nashville recently, she presented at the American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST) conference, discussing lung biopsies using different navigational systems. She will soon publish an article in the CHEST physician newsletter on navigational bronchoscopies.

In May, Allen spoke at the American Thoracic Society in Washington, D.C., again discussing navigational systems to biopsy lung nodules.

Allen, who eventually became an ICU physician in the same unit where she had once worked as a secretary and nurse’s aide, described her hardship years as a medical student: losing power during sub-freezing temperatures, running out of gasoline for her car because she didn’t have the money to buy it.

“You go through these things in life and you think, ‘man, this is hard,’ she said. “But it teaches you humility. It teaches you grit … .

“So, now, I’m a big fancy doctor, and I don’t regret any of those times and those struggles, because it taught me something. The Bible says the last shall be first and the first shall be last … and there was a lot of my life where I was last, but I am very thankful I was chosen for this.”

—  —  —

2023 Hall of Fame Inductees

Portrait of Dr. Claude Brunson

CLAUDE D. BRUNSON, a 2015 Distinguished Medical Alumnus and professor emeritus of anesthesiology at UMMC, is the executive director of the Mississippi State Medical Association.

He previously served as the senior advisor to the vice chancellor for external affairs and director of government affairs at UMMC and chair of the Department of Anesthesiology.

“This honor has as much to do with so many others of you who are sitting out in the audience as it has to do with me,” Brunson said of his Hall of Fame award. “Family friends, mentors, faculty and Medical Center leaders, all have had a significant impact on my life.”

A native of Auburn, Alabama, Brunson graduated from the University of Alabama after a four-year tour with the Navy as a hospital corpsman and field medicine technician. He completed his medical degree at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and his residency in anesthesiology at UMMC. He then joined the faculty of the School of Medicine and later served as chief of the medical staff.

In 2013, Brunson was elected president of MSMA, becoming the first African American to hold that position in the 160-year history of the organization. He was also the winner of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Diversity Educator Award in 2015. 

At UMMC, he became the first African American chief of staff, the first African American hospital administrator and founder of Perioperative Services, and the first African American to lead a medical school department. 

In 2022, he was selected to deliver the Rovenstine (keynote) Lecture at the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ annual meeting. He serves on the boards of the Academy of Anesthesiology, Mississippi Blood Services, Mississippi Physicians Care Network, American Association for Physician Leadership, and KONZA National Network, which provides health information exchange services in a number of states.

Coming to UMMC “was the best decision I ever made, certainly in my professional career,” Brunson said.

“I decided to come to Mississippi, even though it would be just three years of residency, and then I would be out of here. Thirty years later, I’m still trying to finish those three years.

“What I found at UMMC was opportunity – opportunity to prove myself and climb the academic and administrative ladder in a region of the country where at that time was improbable for a black physician.”

—  —  —

Portrait of Dr. James Corbett

JAMES J. CORBETT, as a physician and neurologist, views as his biggest success his record as a mentor to numerous residents and fellows over the course of a UMMC career that spanned about a quarter-century.

Corbett was unable to attend the ceremony; Dr. Jennifer Garrett, an ophthalmologist in Corinth and one of his former mentees, spoke on his behalf.

“I consider it an honor and a pleasure to have had him as … one of my mentors; also, to have him as a friend and to continue to have the opportunity to connect with him,” Garrett said.

A “true legend,” Corbett was a superb physician and diagnostician, she said. “I just tell the young physicians to continue to appreciate those diagnosticians, the ones who didn’t have the CT’s and the MRI’s … the ones who used their brain and their skills to make the diagnosis.

“Dr. Corbett was a gentleman, we had him for almost 25 years at UMC and I just want to thank you for honoring him tonight.”

The former UMMC professor and chair of neurology and professor of ophthalmology, Corbett is an Illinois native from a family of physicians, who earned his medical degree at the Chicago Medical School in 1966.

He completed residencies in internal medicine and neurology at the Rhode Island Hospital and Case Western Reserve University, respectively, before his fellowship in neuro-ophthalmology at the University of California, San Francisco.

Corbett practiced medicine at the Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the University of Iowa before joining UMMC in 1991. At the Medical Center, he distinguished himself as physician, researcher and teacher. He authored more than 200 manuscripts and books and trained numerous neurology and ophthalmology residents, along with more than 22 fellows, many of whom became leaders and chairs in neurology and ophthalmology.

Corbett was made an honorary member of the American Neurological Association, and received the Distinguished Service Award from the North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society, its highest honor. 

During his career, he delivered many named lectures around the world. In 2015, he announced his retirement from UMMC. He now lives in the Chicago area with Joyce Corbett, his wife of more than 60 years.

—  —  — 

Portrait of Dr. Gerry Ann Houston

GERRY ANN HOUSTON, an oncologist and the founder of what is now Hospice Ministries, which built the first inpatient hospice center in central Mississippi, spent the past 35 years providing end-of-life care to thousands of patients and families.

“Being honored here tonight is just a very touching way to end my ministry that has been so rewarding over these years,” said Houston, who recently retired.

“So, thank you to UMMC for helping me to find my path and helping me know what I was meant to do.”

Houston, who grew up in Baldwyn, earned her medical degree in 1978 at the School of Medicine at UMMC where she also completed an internal medicine residency and a medical oncology fellowship. A member of Alpha Omega Alpha, she is board-certified in internal medicine, medical oncology, and hospice and palliative care.  

For 25 years, she cared for oncology patients as a partner at Jackson Oncology Associates. During this time, she served at Baptist Medical Center as medical director of the Baptist Breast Health Center, chair of the Investigational Review Board, president of the medical staff, and cancer liaison physician for the American College of Surgeons.

She volunteered for many years with the American Cancer Society, serving as president of the Mississippi Division and president of the Cancer League which honored her during its 2009 gala for her service to cancer patients. Recently, she was named the recipient of the Golden Magnolia Award for Science and Medicine, presented by Mississippi Magazine to recognize women who are trailblazers.

As board chair and chief medical director for the not-for-profit Hospice Ministries, she has shared its commitment to ensuring that all patients, regardless of their ability to pay, receive the care they need at the end of life. 

—  —  —

Portrait of Dr. Shirley Schlessinger

SHIRLEY DREUX SCHLESSINGER, who retired from UMMC in 2019, forged a reputation for excellence as a physician and educator and because of her dedication to organ recovery and transplantation.

The professor emerita of medicine and former interim chair of the Department of Medicine graduated from the Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans, where she met her husband-to-be, Dr. Louis V. Puneky.

As a young girl, Schlessinger had wanted to be a medical missionary to a foreign country. Instead, she and her husband served as missionaries, of sorts, to patients in Mississippi, she said.

“Not only did we have opportunities, I felt, to minister to patients, and to touch the lives of students and residents, but we truly were also ministered to by all the fabulous people we worked with, many of whom are in this room today.”

After completing her internal medicine residency at UMMC, she joined the general medicine faculty. Later, she completed a nephrology fellowship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a renal transplant fellowship.

In 1993, she and her husband returned to the city where they had trained as residents. She rejoined UMMC to lead the internal medicine residency program and direct the organ recovery agency when it was part of the Department of Surgery. Today, she still serves as medical director of the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency.

Schlessinger helped post several Medical Center milestones, such as the opening of the kidney dialysis service in the Jackson Medical Mall. She filled numerous leadership roles, including vice chair for education, associate dean for Graduate Medical Education for the School of Medicine, medical director of the Division of Continuing Medical Education, interim division chief of nephrology, medical director of the Renal Transplant Program and, at University Hospital, chief of the medical staff.

She represented the southeastern United States on several United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) committees and served on the UNOS board of directors. She was active in the AAMC Group on Resident Affairs, Association of Organ Procurement Organizations, Association of Program Directors in Internal Medicine, American Society of Transplantation, and Mississippi State Medical Association.

In 2013, the Mississippi Chapter of the American College of Physicians honored her with its Laureate Award.

—  —  —

Portrait of Dr. Ed Thompson

ED THOMPSON JR. helped improve the lives of his fellow Mississippians through his transformative leadership in the realm of public health.

The Wesson native graduated in 1979 from the School of Medicine at UMMC and earned a master’s degree in public health at Johns Hopkins University. In 1993, he began his first stint as leader of the Mississippi State Department of Health and focused on combatting sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis.

Under his watch, Mississippi attained the highest immunization rates in the country. The state’s tuberculosis rate sank below the national average for the first time in 30 years, while syphilis rates fell below the national average for the first time since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began keeping records.   

 In 2002, Thompson left Mississippi for Atlanta, where he served as chief of public health practice and deputy director for public health services for the CDC. He returned to Mississippi in 2006 to join the faculty of UMMC where he supported its designation as a Level 1 Trauma Center. The following year, he returned to the MSDH, where he remained until his death from colon cancer in 2009.   

In his second term, Thompson spurred construction of a new public health laboratory, added field staff and nurses to the agency and created pilot programs to lower infant mortality rates in Jackson and the Delta. In 2013, he was posthumously awarded the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Public Health.

Thompson is survived by four children and wife, Marsha Thompson, who spoke on his behalf at the ceremony.

“It’s bittersweet. I have to tell you that,” she said. “I know he would be so pleased to be here, if he could, with this fellow colleagues and inductees … .

“He was a gifted and extraordinary  leader who still had so much to contribute. A ‘medical statesman,’ according to the former chair of the State Board of Health, Dr. Luke Lampton.

“Ed’s focus was always, always, and deliberately on what was best for all Mississippians … .”

—  —  —

GOLDEN GRADS: Members of the Class of 1973

Golden Grads recognized during the ceremony are, front row, from left: Dr. Martin L. Pinstein, Dr. William Brown Hulett, Dr. Karen Dwyer Hulett, Dr. Laurin Watras, Dr. Sandra Rhoden, Dr. Tom Christian and Dr. M.D. Hardy; back row, from left: Dr. William K. Harper, Dr. Billy W. Long, Dr. Ron Johnson, Dr. Clinton Cavett, Dr. Jack Reed, Dr. Joel Payne Jr., Dr. Ray Johnson, Dr. John F. Hassell and Dr. John B. Cox.
  • Clinton Cavett 
  • Tom Christian 
  • John B. Cox 
  • M.D. Hardy 
  • William K. Harper 
  • John F. Hassell 
  • Karen Dwyer Hulett
  • William Brown Hulett 
  • Ray Johnson 
  • Ron Johnson 
  • Billy W. Long
  • Joel Payne, Jr. 
  • Martin L. Pinstein
  • Jack Reed
  • Sandra Rhoden
  • Laurin Watras