Stephenson juggles academics, commitment to service

It’s a Friday afternoon on a crowded patient floor at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. The relentless beeping of IV monitors and the palpable stress of concerned families pacing the hallways fuel the constant chaos.

Medical students Jason Stephenson and Heba Iskandar review a diabetes patient's chart at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
Medical students Jason Stephenson and Heba Iskandar review a diabetes patient’s chart at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “Jason is a born leader,” says Leslie Kahl, M.D., associate dean for student affairs. “He manages to combine superb listening skills with a critical yet thoughtful and mature approach to any problem at hand.”

Fourth-year medical student Jason Stephenson is reviewing a diabetes patient’s chart with Heba Iskandar, a first-year medical student who’s taking an elective class called “Interpersonal Dynamics in Medicine,” which Stephenson designed to help improve patients’ experiences during their hospital stays.

From the smooth way he coaches Iskandar through the patient interview to the contagious smile that accompanies his gracious bedside manner, Stephenson effortlessly puts both student and patient at ease.

As a third-year student, it became obvious to Stephenson that patients are sometimes frustrated with their experiences at hospitals. He designed the class to chronicle patient experiences, from the ambulance ride to treatment in the emergency department to surgery recovery, with the aim of making the entire experience more positive.

“Jason is a born leader,” says Leslie Kahl, M.D., associate dean for student affairs. “He manages to combine superb listening skills with a critical yet thoughtful and mature approach to any problem at hand.

“These traits, in addition to his genuine warmth and compassion, make him a standout on our campus.”

The rigorous demands of medical school have never stopped Stephenson from seeking out additional leadership opportunities. He’s been involved with an array of teaching and community-service programs and has served as president of the Class of 2004 for the past three years.

“The fact that I love to teach stems directly from the fact that I love to learn,” he says. “My teaching efforts are directed toward instilling the same love of learning in everyone I teach.”

During his undergraduate studies at Stanford University, Stephenson directed a summer program that exposed low-income students to health-care careers.

His dedication to community service and his longtime love for teaching soon overshadowed his premedical coursework, and plans of attending medical school were eclipsed by a desire to teach and make a difference in the community.

After graduating from Stanford, he taught ninth- and 10th-graders biology and chemistry at his high-school alma mater, MICDS, in West St. Louis County.

“At first I felt a little guilty about taking that job because I was so focused on teaching un-derserved students, but I was excited about the freedom and creativity that would accompany designing my own curriculum and developing my own teaching style,” he says.

After three years of teaching science classes and coaching junior-varsity basketball at MICDS, Stephenson shifted his attention back to medical school.

“Jason’s understanding of group dynamics, perhaps stemming from his tenure as a high-school science teacher, allows him to serve as a voice of moderation among a group of high achievers and as a standard by which his classmates can gauge their own professional behavior,” says Will Ross, M.D., associate dean and director of the Office of Diversity.

“Jason’s success is due not only to his keen intellect and mature insights, but also to his natural leadership skills and ability to relate so well to his colleagues.”

School of Medicine

Stephenson’s love for teaching will undoubtedly guide him toward a career in academic medicine. But an affinity for anatomy, coupled with a talent for understanding visual aspects and spatial relationships, sparked an interest in radiology as a specialty.

“Radiology is very intellectually challenging,” Stephenson says. “I enjoy analyzing images and trying to figure out what’s wrong with the picture — it’s like a puzzle that requires you to access this enormous volume of medical knowledge in order to solve complex problems.”

Stephenson will begin a one-year internship at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in suburban St. Louis this fall.

He will then return to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in summer 2005 for a radiology residency.

But he is not apprehensive about entering a field with less direct involvement with patient care.

“Community service has always been my top priority,” he says. “I never want to pull too far away from the service aspect of medicine.”

This month, he’ll have the privilege of tending to three very special patients when his college sweetheart and wife, Laura, gives birth to twins, a girl and boy.

“Jason is somehow able to balance top-notch academic work with family life and a strong commitment to service,” Kahl says.

“We are most fortunate that he has chosen to remain in St. Louis for residency training, as we will be the first to hear of his many, many future successes.

“We will also continue to enjoy his understated presence — and that megawatt smile.

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