March 27, 2014
Katie Alford is a medical history buff, who in her down time likes to read about key players in the history of medicine and disease. Alford’s current internship at Open Arms Health Care Center in Jackson provides the opportunity for her to go beyond reading about medical history but to record it.
Katie Alford and Dr. Ralph Didlake, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer at UMMC, look over documents of the late Dr. James Hardy at the University of Mississippi Medical Center Library
“I seek to understand how the clinic is unique, besides the fact that it is located in the heart of Mississippi,” said Alford, a Millsaps senior who is majoring in biochemistry and history and will graduate in 2015. “I will interview staff members about what they think about the care they provide to their patients as well as how they perceive the clinic. I will also conduct oral interviews with various patients to try to understand their thoughts and feelings regarding Open Arms Health Care Center as well as how their treatment at this clinic differs from any other medical care they have received. Since this clinic specializes in the care of members in the LBGT community, it is a very interesting place to try to understand what ‘care’ really means for patients as well as those who provide care.”
Last summer, Alford nurtured her interest in medical history with an internship at the University of Mississippi Medical Center Library. She focused on the history of the late Dr. James Hardy, who made international history in 1963 when he and his surgical team transplanted the heart of a chimpanzee - man’s closest genetic relation - into the chest of a dying man. The world’s first heart transplanted into man beat 90 minutes before it stopped.
“I began the (Dr. Hardy) archival collection at the University of Mississippi Medical Center Library,” she said. “Before his death, Dr. Hardy donated his personal and professional letters, memorabilia from trips, photographs, and various other items that he collected as his tenure as chief of surgery at UMMC. I thoroughly enjoyed it because it gave me the opportunity to see and hold so many documents that he wrote and pictures that he took while traveling and of his personal life. I was also able to watch the video of his historic heart and lung transplant surgery at UMMC.”
The internship was especially satisfying, said Alford, because she considers Hardy a personal hero and “would have a poster of him in my room if they made them.” When she was a sophomore, Alford shadowed a Jackson area physician who as a medical student knew Hardy.
“She often relayed stories about her experiences with Dr. Hardy to me. I read both of Dr. Hardy's autobiographies, and I began to get more books about famous figures in medicine, both locally as well as those elsewhere in the U.S.,” she said. “Medical history directly relates my two interests, science and history, and allows me to imagine the historical narrative of the rise of America's impressive hospital system.”
Alford hopes to attend dental school at UMMC and possibly practice general dentistry in a rural area of Mississippi. She credits the academic excellence that Millsaps professors require with improving her observational skills, reasoning, and communication skills.
“Of all of the transforming experiences I've had, I would say the most transforming experience was participating in research last summer with Dr. (Debora) Mann and Dr. (Kristina) Stensaas,” she said. “I am more competent in applying the science I have learned in the classroom to real-world problem solving.”
Alford is a member of Chi Omega sorority, the 1C1C Leadership Team, TriBeta, SAACS, Phi Alpha Theta, and the History Club. “All are fun activities and have been a great way to combine socializing with an organization that you can include on a resume,” she said.