Dr. Patricia Flynn received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Rhodes College (then called Southwestern at Memphis) in 1977. It was an auspicious beginning to a rewarding career that has impacted countless lives. She went on to earn her medical degree from LSU in 1981, and from there, she eventually landed a position at one of the world’s most prestigious and beloved medical institutions, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which provides free treatment for children battling cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Dr. Flynn holds the Arthur Ashe Chair in Pediatric AIDS Research at St. Jude and specializes in HIV/AIDS research. Here, she talks about her career path and why she loves her work at St. Jude.
Tell us about your path and how you got to where you are now.
Flynn: I grew up in New Orleans, and, if you know anyone from New Orleans, you know they are very close to their family. I was really at a crossroads in life my senior year of high school, and I had several friends tell me I needed to branch out and look at schools outside of town. I went to an event that Southwestern at Memphis—now Rhodes College—was hosting in New Orleans and decided to apply.
All through college, I knew I wanted to be a part of the science industry but wasn’t sure how. I had a few internships that I thought were incredibly boring, and that is ultimately what helped me decide to go to medical school instead of pursuing a masters in chemistry. It was the best decision I ever made. I returned to Louisiana for medical school and eventually came back to Memphis to join the faculty at St. Jude in 1988.
Why did you choose St. Jude?
Flynn: St. Jude is an ideal place to practice medicine. Because we are primarily philanthropic and grant-funded, we are able to practice the way medicine should be practiced. It’s refreshing to have that freedom in medicine. St. Jude is the dream job! They really encourage you to do groundbreaking work.
What’s the nature of your work there?
Flynn: Until 2015, I focused on pediatric infectious disease research. I now spend 50% of my time in hospital administration and the other 50% continuing clinical research, specifically HIV infection. I really love what I do, and I like that I get the opportunity to wear different hats. That really keeps things interesting and keeps me on my toes.
The Foundation promotes positive community change in its programming and overall message. What are some social issues that matter most to you today?
Flynn: You know, I feel like St. Jude is really a place where everyone is accepted. There is a lot of diversity, and that is really eye-opening and helpful. But being in Memphis, you see a lot more negativity in the community. The inability to recognize racism is poisoning our society, and we need equal opportunities for all and for everyone to succeed.
If you were pressed to give one piece of advice to young people, what would it be?
Flynn: Work hard to find out what makes you happy and what you are passionate about. Then, chase that. Don’t chase money—chase happiness.