Bussey-Jones receives Exemplary Teacher Award for supporting others’ success

By Martha McKenzie | Emory Report | May 7, 2021

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Throughout her career as a physician and professor of medicine, Jada Bussey-Jones has worked to empower future doctors to understand health disparities and treat each patient as "a person and not a disease."

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Eighteen months ago, during one of her first clinical rotations, Hannah Ferrera worked under Dr. Jada Bussey-Jones as her attending physician. Today, as she prepares to graduate with the School of Medicine Class of 2021, Ferrera has a lofty career aspiration. “Someday I would like to be Dr. Bussey-Jones,” she says.

She’s not alone. Mention Bussey-Jones to students and colleagues alike and you hear phrases like, “I would not be where I am now without her,” “She set the bar,” “She convinced me I could do it.”

And that has been Bussey-Jones’s career aspiration.

She has a defining goal across her many and varied positions, which include professor of medicine and vice chair of diversity, equity and inclusion in the School of Medicine; chief of the Division of General Medicine and Geriatrics at Grady Memorial Hospital; assistant dean of professional development for Emory at Grady; and director of education for the Urban Health Initiative.

“My focus is supporting others to be successful in their career path, particularly women and people of color,” she says. “Teaching and mentoring is a central theme in all my roles. It’s core not only to what I do, but to who I am.”

Bussey-Jones is the 2021 recipient of the Exemplary Teacher of the Year Award, a faculty honor supported by the United Methodist Church's General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

Her passion has its roots in her own experiences with teachers and mentors, both good and bad. She remembers being told, despite excellent grades and job performance, she wouldn’t be able to get into medical school or that she was not a good candidate for promotion.

But she also had her share of people telling her she could do anything she wanted. And she did. After being valedictorian of her high school class, she went on as a first-generation college student to graduate from Emory College of Arts and Sciences and then Emory’s medical school.

Once she joined the Emory faculty in 1999, Bussey-Jones was determined to be the positive type of teacher and mentor that had helped her along her path.

She helped create and lead the Community Learning and Social Medicine course designed to “get students out of the classroom and into the community without a stethoscope.” She envisioned the course as a way for students to engage with people they hope to serve in the future and see firsthand how things like education level, access to health care and income impact health.

“This is not something extra,” she says. “Every medical school student is required to take it. It lasts 15 months, and it’s graded. That sets the tone for how important and foundational we consider social determinants of health. The class has become a defining characteristic of the School of Medicine.”

Health beyond the hospital

Though Bussey-Jones still lectures in a few classes, she does most of her teaching at the bedside, again with a particular focus on health disparities. “My role is teaching the next generation of clinicians not only how to make a diagnosis and come up with the most appropriate treatment plan, but to consider the things that impact patients’ health beyond what is happening in the hospital,” she says.

Ben Magod 21M got that lesson loud and clear. “She taught us to think about the patient as a person and not a disease,” he says. “She made us realize that we could get everything right as far as treating the patient in the hospital, but if we sent them home with a prescription they couldn’t afford or told them to eat more fruits and vegetables when they lived in a food desert, we weren’t going to get the results we wanted.”

Bussey-Jones devotes equal time and energy to supporting colleagues. She developed and led an Underrepresented in Medicine (URiM) program for the School of Medicine that works to foster faculty development of minorities. Within her own section of general internal medicine at Grady, Bussey-Jones created a structure to support career advancement by identifying growth opportunities, providing individualized career coaching and recognizing achievements.

As a result, half of the division’s URiM faculty and more than 60% of its women faculty have reached a senior academic rank — professor or associate professor.

“So many of us have benefited from our association with Jada,” says Maura George, an associate professor of medicine. “She makes everything seem so reasonable to achieve. From the very early days of my career, she helped me secure grant funding, develop curriculum for an elective and navigate the promotion process. Like many other people, I would not be where I am today without her mentorship.”