DeBakey High School for Health Professions at 50 Years: Dr. Judith R. Campbell

Dr. Judith R. Campbell grew up in a home where the importance of education was emphasized from an early age. Her mother, Iva, was an educator, and her father, Herman, was a chemist in the research division of a large chemical firm.

At age 13, Herman received the news that he would be transferred to Houston. A new opportunity presented itself to Campbell.

“I had heard about a high school in Houston in this documentary that offered a unique educational model for students interested in medicine at the high school level,” Campbell said. “I knew I wanted to be a doctor long before high school, so when I heard we were moving to Houston, one of my first thoughts was about the unique high school there. Shortly after we moved, I applied.”

Founded in 1972, the High School for Health Professions was nestled in the heart of the Texas Medical Center with classes taught at Baylor College of Medicine by Baylor faculty. When Campbell attended from 1974-77, classes were held in Baylor facilities and in temporary units, affectionately known as “the Shacks.”

DeBakey High School for Health Professions archive

Dr. Michael E. DeBakey viewed the new High School for Health Professions in Houston’s Texas Medical Center in this archive photo.


The Shacks were in the middle of a parking lot close to what is now MD Anderson Cancer Center. The school’s physical location may have been nebulous, but the sense of community created by the students, teachers and their devotion to medical professions transcended any facility, Campbell said.

“I didn’t really anticipate how impactful the community at the high school would be, especially being in a new city. Everybody knew everybody,” Campbell said. “Being surrounded by people who were excited about the same things you were, and with the backdrop of the Texas Medical Center, made it really easy to picture myself here.”

If students wanted to attend the high school, all they had to do was apply. No part of Houston was zoned to the school, which meant kids from all walks of life would be able to experience a rigorous and intimate curriculum that was on par with expensive private schools that offered similar courses. After working in the professional world, Campbell has realized how rare the school was back then, and still is today.

“The student body had cultural, economic and geographic diversity,” she said. “In retrospect, I thought that was normal. I thought, ‘OK, this is cool, folks come from all over.’ But here we are in 2022, and people still are having to be intentional about diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Campbell recalled playing volleyball by using a net tied between two trees and softball in a school park that is now underneath a TMC building. She remembered taking patient care classes where she learned how to prepare a hospital bed and record a person’s vital signs. She remembered Ms. Charlotte Bryant’s laboratory science class, rotations at the hospitals in the TMC and her favorite course – microbiology lab.

“No surprise that that was my favorite (since) I went into infectious diseases,” she said.

Campbell now serves as professor of pediatrics in the division of infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine and as a clinician-educator at Texas Children’s Hospital. She carries out her passion for medical education and clinical care every day.

Dr. Judith Campbell

As an educator, Campbell makes it her personal mission to inspire, challenge and support future physicians beyond their many years of training. As a doctor, Campbell provides compassionate care to patients as if they were her own family or friends.

“My approach [to education and care] was instilled in me from my parents, but was reinforced by teachers and mentors from at DeBakey and throughout my education and training,” she said.

Forty-five years have passed since Campbell graduated from the High School for Health Professions. In that time, the school was renamed the Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions in honor of the world-renowned Baylor cardiac surgeon. The school is now a 198,000-square-foot, five-story building that was completed in 2017.

Campbell recently toured the newer campus with DeBakey High School senior Marrthella Diaz and, much to her delight, was able to see and experience how the high school has transformed.

“I will always be an advocate and cheerleader for this school,” Campbell said “DeBakey High School now looks a little bit different, but it is still a place where any student in the Houston area  who really wants to be here has the opportunity to get an education like no other.”

By Aaron Nieto