A quarter-century ago, Dr. Jim Phillips was recruited to Baylor College of Medicine to lead programs focused on increasing diversity in medicine and science. With the foundation laid and a track record of success, Phillips has announced his retirement as senior associate dean for diversity and community outreach.
A celebration of his career was held Friday, Oct. 26, on the main Baylor campus in the Alkek Lobby.
“Dr. Philips has been making a difference in medicine for a long time,” said Dr. Alicia Monroe, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs. “He has touched many hearts, he has changed many lives, he has created space, he has helped many people who were having difficulty believing in themselves, and he was there at crucial times to speak a word of encouragement and to often see in many of us things that we couldn’t see ourselves.”
Phillips joined Baylor College of Medicine in 1993, recruited by former president Dr. Bill Butler. The two had been colleagues at Case Western University School of Medicine and at the Harvard University Graduate School of Business Advanced Management Program. Butler was concerned about the lack of students at Baylor who came from groups underrepresented in medicine, especially when, in 1992, only one black student matriculated in the medical school.
With Phillips on board, programs soon launched to address this issue, including the Honors Premedical Academy, a joint program of Baylor and Rice University that provides promising underrepresented students with additional educational and practical experiences to enhance their competitiveness in the medical school admissions process, and Saturday Morning Science, an enrichment program for inner city middle and high school students. He also provided important leadership in the College’s pipeline programs such as the DeBakey High School for Health Professions, a partnership of Baylor and the Houston Independent School District, and the Summer Undergraduate Research Training, or SMART, Program.
“We worked together for years building the SMART program, Saturday Morning Science and other initiatives,” said Dr. Gayle Slaughter, longtime director of the SMART Program who retired last year. “I ate many dinners at the Phillips’ house and, in fact, they opened their home to young people from all over the country.”
Phillips also was a steady presence at recruiting and other events – basically anywhere he could speak to students about their opportunities in medicine and science, particularly at Baylor College of Medicine.
One Baylor medical school alumnus, Dr. Chris Glover, also an alum of many of Phillips’ other efforts and a frequent dinner guest at the Phillips’ home, reflected on his impact.
Glover, now a professor of pediatric anesthesiology at Baylor College of Medicine, first connected with Phillips as a Texas A&M University undergraduate, when he was seeking speakers for an event for students on the pathways to becoming a physician. “We sent letters to about 40 different people, leaders at various institutions, and Dr. Phillips was one of the first to respond, and very quickly. He was selfless in that regard. From there, well, I don’t know if you look for mentors or if there’s a higher influence that places people there for you, but I didn’t have a whole lot of direction and then I met this individual and he was a model person, not just for being a physician but for ways to approach life.”
Glover noted that dinners at Jim and Barbara Phillips’ house continued even after he was married and with a family of his own.
Phillips’ efforts bear out not just in the remembrances of those he mentored and worked with, but also in the statistics. Compared to the year that Phillips was hired, when there was just one African American matriculate in medical school and one graduate of the M.D./Ph.D. program, there have now been nine African American M.D./Ph.D. graduates and three others currently enrolled, and in 2017, more than 16 percent of the first-year class was underrepresented in medicine. And that’s just at Baylor College of Medicine – many other young people who participated in outreach programs at Baylor have gone on to other healthcare and research institutions.
Efforts and initiatives that Phillips developed served as the foundation for the College’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, which is now led by Associate Provost Dr. Toi Harris. Read an update on diversity and inclusion activities.
“Overwhelmed,” Phillips said to colleagues and friends. “I so appreciate your kind words. One thing that I want to say is that without the faculty, I’d be dead in the water. Whenever I asked anything of them, they were right there, whether it was to give a talk at Saturday Morning Science or to come to the house for dinner to sit and talk with students. I’m so glad the late Dr. Butler gave me this opportunity.”
What’s next for Phillips? He and his family own a candy store, Brandt’s, in the Cleveland, Ohio, area, where he’ll continue to be involved. And he’ll surely still use his influence to positively mentor young people underrepresented in medicine.
His advice for Baylor? “Keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
Hear Dr. Phillips talk about his career in this video on the occasion of receiving the Distinguished Faculty Award from the Alumni Association.