Turning Hurdles into Stepping Stones
Sherréa Jones, PhD, has known she wanted to be a physician since she was just 8 years old.
“I did not grow up surrounded by doctors, but I was inspired by physicians I saw on television,” she recalls. “Even at that young age, I knew to be part of someone’s medical journey meant being part of something very personal and significant.”
As a first-generation college graduate, Dr. Jones pushed herself to pursue unprecedented achievements in her family by completing a PhD with a focus on molecular biology and biochemistry at Marquette University in 2009. Ten years later, she has entered this year’s Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) class to pursue her doctor of medicine degree. Dr. Jones is participating in MCW’s deaccelerated medical school curriculum, which allows nontraditional students to complete their coursework in five years instead of four.
Dr. Jones says the program is the perfect fit that will allow her to balance raising her young children and family life with her medical studies.
“I always wanted to go to medical school, but when I graduated from Marquette in 2009, I told myself the medical degree needed to wait,” she explains. “I had my oldest son when I was 16 years old and had been in school for his entire life. As a single parent, I felt I owed it to him to focus on being his parent until he was older. Now, I am ready to pursue this dream at MCW.”
In the 10 years since she earned her PhD, Dr. Jones has gotten married, had two more children and taught at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), where she sought to inspire students from disadvantaged backgrounds to realize their full academic potential.
“Coming from an underserved background myself, I know people often envision themselves going only as far as others they see around them,” Dr. Jones explains. “I did not grow up watching lawyers, dentists or doctors. A lot of the women in my family are young mothers. I was part of that cycle. But I thought, ‘How do I make this a stepping stone and achieve something that has never been done in my family?’ I started every day from scratch and have always done the best I can. Now I challenge my students to think of their growth potential and envision themselves in careers beyond what is right in front of them.”
Dr. Jones admits that balancing higher education while raising her son was not an easy path, but the challenges in her journey have prepared her for the rigors of a career as a physician.
“I learned, navigated, failed and tried again,” she says. “Earning my bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison took me five years and was a tremendous struggle. Although I graduated top of my class in high school, I was underprepared for college life. I was working, supporting my child, and my family was going through financial difficulty. I did not hit my stride until my third year of college, but I worked hard to achieve my goals.”
After graduating, Dr. Jones was accepted to Marquette for graduate school, where her original plan was to pursue a master’s degree. But professors encouraged her to consider a doctorate.
“Those three letters – PhD – were very intimidating,” Dr. Jones recalls. “But my program did something for me beyond what I expected. I was able to mature academically. I was challenged to think critically in ways I never thought I could. It has all brought me here to a place where I have the ability – and the confidence – to achieve a degree in medicine.”
Dr. Jones says she hopes her journey will inspire people from underrepresented populations and people of color to pursue medical professions. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people who are black or African American account for less than 4 percent of practicing physicians and only 7 percent of medical school graduates.
“My passion is to increase the number of people of color in medical professions,” Dr. Jones says. “Anything is possible. I want to inspire young people to pursue heights beyond their circumstances and hold tight to achieving their dreams.” She feels that MCW and Milwaukee are the perfect fit for her to achieve her goals and become part of the driving force to change the face of medicine.
“This city and state have raised me, and I feel I owe it to try to do for others here what I needed done for me,” Dr. Jones explains. “There are many health disparities to address in Milwaukee and a lot of work I see I can do here.” She hopes to work in academic medicine and continue teaching both future physicians and her future patients.
“I look forward to the day I am able to teach patients about their health care,” Dr. Jones says. “To explain to patients what is happening with their health and helping them through that, I cannot think of anything more rewarding.”