Flinn Scholar alum and pediatrician Dr. Mia Henderson is fulfilling her lifelong dream

March 29, 2021

By Chris Farrington

Dr. Mia Henderson, a Class of 2001 Flinn Scholar from Sierra Vista and University of Arizona graduate, is serving as a general pediatrician at the Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation. An M.D./Ph.D. with a master’s degree in secondary education, Mia has desired since elementary school to be a pediatrician for families with trouble affording health care. Below, Mia responds to questions from the Flinn Foundation and shares in her own words how the Flinn Scholarship impacted her journey.

What is your life like as a pediatrician at Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation, one of the largest federally qualified health centers (FQHC) in the Midwest?

I work as a general pediatrician, seeing patients up to age 21 in the outpatient setting. My practice serves a wide range of patients, covering all income levels and ranging from urban to rural. I see newborns at their first appointment after leaving the hospital and continue to see patients at least until they turn 18, but sometimes into the college years. I primarily work in an office on weekdays, but also answer calls from parents in the evenings and on weekends.

What was it like training at one of the country’s leading children’s hospitals?

St. Louis Children’s Hospital/Washington University School of Medicine consortium was a great program to train as a pediatrician. It is a high-volume program with a large catchment area. As a result, I learned how to care for both routine pediatric problems as well as “zebras”—rare medical problems. It is a busy program, which can definitely be challenging. I think for any doctor, it is the best type of training program. Seeing such a wide range of patients is the best way to be prepared for whatever patients will come through your door when you are in independent practice.

What attracted you to pediatric medicine?

It’s the best medical specialty! Seriously, I love that I get to meet many of my patients right after they are born and work with them and their families to shape their health and nutrition for their entire lives. Also, kids just make for really fun patients.

As a student at Buena High School in Sierra Vista, did you dream one day of being a pediatrician?

I’ve really always wanted to a be a pediatrician, though I did briefly consider other specialties along the way. Even in elementary school, I wanted to be a pediatrician taking care of patients whose families had trouble affording health care. Working at an FQHC, that is a large part of my job.

What high-school activities prepared you well for your undergraduate years as a Flinn Scholar at the University of Arizona and perhaps your career?

Though not an “activity,” my AP US History class, taught by Bill Hicks, was one of the best preparations for college. We spent a lot of time critically looking at both historical and contemporary issues. Additionally, my time as a Girl Scout, including completing a Gold Award project, taught me how to work effectively with diverse groups, translate an observed need into an idea and then an actionable plan, and how to persevere through challenges along the way.

What were your most influential experiences at UArizona?

U of A was the first place where I participated in research. First in the social sciences, then in genetics. These were my first experiences with doing science, rather than just learning about it. I quickly found that I loved the intellectual exercises of designing experiments and writing about science, leading to an internship at the National Institutes of Health and my decision to pursue a doctorate in molecular and cell biology, in addition to an M.D., at Washington University School of Medicine.

What attracted you to Loyola Marymount University for graduate school and where did that lead in your career?

I completed a master’s degree in education at LMU while I was working as a Teach for America corps member. Being a good teacher is critical to being a good doctor, whether you have formal educator training or not. I use what I learned at LMU everyday to guide how I help patients and their families to understand their diagnoses and treatment plans.

Why did you later decide to pursue a M.D./Ph.D from Washington University in St. Louis and how has that dual degree helped you in your current role?

As I mentioned, I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. I applied to medical school as a college senior, then deferred admission to serve as a Teach for America corps member. I chose Washington University because it is one of the best medical schools in the country, one of the largest dual (M.D./Ph.D.) programs in the country, and is also in a city where you can easily live comfortably on a graduate-student stipend. Obviously, I use my M.D. as a practicing physician. I am not making much use of my Ph.D. right now; however, as the pandemic wraps up, I do plan to engage in some clinical research.

How would you describe the Flinn Scholars community?

Amazing. Inspiring. Supportive. The other Flinn Scholars were all so smart and always working on such impressive projects (whether academic, community-service, or some combination of the two), but still always had time to chat, study together, and support each other.

What is your fondest memory of the Flinn Scholarship?

Hands down, the travel seminar following freshman year. At the time, Flinns were going to central Europe, though this has since changed. The opportunity to learn while traveling with your peers is truly unique and remarkable. Having smart, thoughtful peers with whom to reflect on the experiences in real time is something you cannot get in many study-abroad experiences. This trip also provided a strong foundation for my solo travels that followed.