Dr. Shirley Schlessinger: a dynamic leader retires

Dr. Shirley Schlessinger retired after 34 years of service to UMMC in June 2019. Dr. Schlessinger held many key leadership roles within the university, including Interim Department Chair of Medicine, Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education, Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Vice Chair for Education for the Department of Medicine. As a transplant nephrologist, she also served as Medical Director for Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency.

An excerpt from “Message from the Chair” from Dr. Schlessinger, June 2012:


Here, we sit down with Dr. Schlessinger and asked her to share her memories and lessons learned from her time at UMMC.

What has been your favorite thing about your time at UMMC?

I have loved being part of a dynamic organization committed to making a difference in people’s lives.  I made incredible friends here during residency and during my years as faculty, have learned so many things from patients, students, and residents, and have been able to be a small part of UMMC’s mission for the state of Mississippi.  Lots has changed since we came here in 1985!

What about your time at UMMC made you sad?

So many of the great UMMC teachers and physicians who molded me into the person I am today died far too young.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Not that I can truly take any credit, but I am so proud of all the smart, talented folks we have on faculty in the DOM, now, for whom I had the honor and privilege of serving as Program Director, VC for Education, or Interim Chair.  Nothing is more rewarding than watching students and residents grow into incredible physicians, teachers, and leaders!

What is your first memory of UMMC?

In December 1984, Louis and I came to Jackson to interview for internship positions as M4’s.  We got terribly lost trying to find Cerami’s Italian restaurant at the reservoir after dark (but ultimately had a great meal when we found it!) and then went to the Alumni House to sleep. Long ago, it was a hotel the departments could use to put up residency applicants.  When we walked into the room, which was quite nice, I saw the biggest roach I had ever seen (still to this day!) in the middle of the lovely wall-papered wall.  I initially thought it was a bat, but when I went closer to look at it, the thing literally flew off the wall and scuttled across the room.  I screamed and jumped on the bed, and Louis chased it out of the room (my hero!) The remainder of the trip was uneventful, and we thought the campus when we saw it the next day in daylight was beautiful.  I interviewed with Ben Johnson and Helen Turner, and was pretty sure this is where I wanted to do Internal Medicine residency. They made me feel valued, and I knew if I joined this department I would be well taught and become a good clinical physician.

What advice would you give to those career planning for the future?

Follow your passion. Seek opportunities for servant leadership. Don’t expect anything of others that you aren’t willing to do yourself. Always try to leave every role you fill a bit more robust than you found it; look for ways to make new contributions. Don’t complain about things unless you are willing to try to make them better—and everything can be better!

What do you plan to do with your time now that you are retiring?

I have always had lots of interests and no time to pursue them.  I am really looking forward to cooking new, exciting meals for Louis, reading biographies, travelling, exercising, taking some oil painting lessons, working on French language skills, and of course, most importantly, spending time with my granddaughter, Sarah Clarke, in Augusta, Georgia.


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  1. Congratulations on your retirement Shirley. Very well deserved. Hope you and Louis enjoy retirement as much as Brenda and I are. Spending time with grandchildren is priceless.


  2. I can hardly believe you’re retirement age! It’s been a long time since you walked me into the ER and everybody jumped when you spoke, but I’ve never been better taken care of, before or since. Just yesterday I came across the picture of me holding Drew when he was newly born and Trey and I came to Birmingham to see him. That’s been a few years, too. UMMC is losing a vital, talented and brilliant part of that institution. It was my honor to work with you just a short part of the time you were there. Try not to spoil that grand baby too badly (not!). Love you, Shirley


  3. Shirley,
    Congratulations to you, my friend. I wish you and Louis a happy retirement. Come to see us in Oxford.
    The Vances


  4. I had the great pleasure of having Shirley as my intern many years ago. Her intelligence was immediately obvious , Her caring demeanor towards patients ever present and she was one tough woman. I was so happy to see her pursue her professional career followed by wonderful years of service to her patient and to UMMC.


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