The Joy of Molding Young Minds
Dr. Lauree Thomas
As a child growing up in rural Mississippi,
Dr. Lauree Thomas had little in the way of medical
role models. In fact, until her first clinic visit at
18, her only experience with care providers was
the health department officials who passed out
sugar cubes dotted with polio vaccine to area
But Thomas learned everything she needed to know
about service and compassion from her mother—a
woman who, in addition to raising 12 of her own,
tended to half the children in their small, povertystricken
community and often invited whole families to sleep in their home
because they had nowhere else to go.
“My mother taught us that if you do something for someone else, you’re
always blessed,” Thomas says.
That life lesson, combined with an early talent and passion for science, led her
into medicine and her chosen field of geriatrics. She spent 11 years focused
almost exclusively on her patients, often working up to 100 hours a week,
and always responding, “I’m on my way,” even if the call came in the predawn
But as much as she enjoyed the “priceless sensation of saving a life,” Thomas
felt a strong tug toward medical education administration—in part because
she considers it a “joy and privilege to mold young minds,” and in part
because she can recruit more minorities to the field, help them succeed in
school and send them back out as doctors into medically underserved areas.
Thomas came to UTMB in August 2001 and she approaches her role as
associate dean for student affairs with as much zeal as she did her physician
role. She is also a driving force behind many of the dramatic changes that
have taken place in UTMB’s medical education program.
Moving from a traditional to an integrated curriculum involved rethinking
virtually every aspect of the program. Are subjective measures, such as a
student’s record of public service, important in recruiting? Can a student with
a lower-than-average MCAT be successful in medical school? Are students
really ready to see patients in their first year? Is experiential learning an
effective teaching tool?
The answer, says Thomas, is yes. UTMB students see patients their first year,
compared with the third year at most medical schools. Much of their training
and testing is problem-based, performed in real or simulated clinic settings
rather than at a desk with pen and paper. They consistently score above the
national average and lead the state on the first step of the medical licensure
In her first years at UTMB, Thomas earned a reputation for being hard-nosed
by teaching aspiring doctors that their personal lives couldn’t come before
their training. Her philosophy? If you know you have an exam, don’t schedule
a vacation or a C-section for the same day. “Medicine is more than a job,”
she says. “It requires discipline, sacrifice, a commitment to lifelong learning
and to making a difference in the lives of others and to the world.”
Whether it’s making a patient’s eyes light up herself or helping students who
share her passion become skilled and compassionate doctors, Lauree Thomas
continues to do just that.