James Jackson ’96: James of all trades

If you’re ever in an emergency situation, you want Dr. James Jackson ’96 with you.

Not only is the emergency medicine physician level-headed under stress, but he actually feels comfortable in fast-paced, high-stakes situations. A self-described life-long worrier, he reasons that the stress he feels internally is counteracted by external environmental stressors, giving him a sense of equilibrium.

“I’m happy to help out in an emergent moment,” says Jackson, who attended Colorado Academy from 11th through 12th Grade. “It’s the best place for me.”

Judging from his diverse professional and personal experience, there are a lot of good places for Jackson to apply his diverse talents.

A singer and a massage therapist

The first place Jackson remembers exercising his talents was on stage, as a kid singing in church and community choirs.

“I wanted to be a performer and singer,” he says.

At CA, he nurtured this passion, starring in CA musicals like Pirates of Penzance and Camelot and working closely with then Vocal Music Director Cindy Jordan and Chairman of the Fine and Performing Arts Department Angel Vigil. As a college student, he got into Rice University’s voice-major-only choir even though he wasn’t a voice major.

Then, a year out of college, the September 11 terrorist attacks put a roadblock in Jackson’s professional path. He was laid off from his day job and needed a new opportunity.

He had a talent for massage. So he went to massage school, got certified as a massage therapist, and started his own massage company. The business was a success, but he noticed that many of his massage clients needed much more than therapeutic massage. They needed a doctor.

Jackson decided he should be a doctor—so he went to the University of Texas and became one.

He has spent more than a decade in ERs in both Texas and Colorado, earning a reputation for good patient communication and applying his cool-under-pressure skills. He has regularly volunteered his medical services at the border between the United States and Mexico.

“I love the patient interaction piece of being a doctor,” he says.

An ER doc and a health care administrator

These days, Jackson still works as a physician, but he has his sights set on the next place that needs his talents.

“Medicine is broken in the United States,” he says. What does he mean?

A common perception is that doctors make a lot of money and live comfortably. While this may have been true in the past, Jackson says the life of an MD is far from luxurious.

“Doctors have had declining wages in spite of inflation,” he says. “You graduate med school with $300,000 in loans and make less than your grandfather made as a physician. My student loan payment is more than half that of my mortgage.”

Meanwhile, he says, doctors in clinical settings are being asked to “do more with less”—follow additional regulations and guidelines, while having reduced resources, staff, and time.

“There’s never any responsibility removed; it’s always more, and never additional compensation,” he says. “People don’t see that.”

On top of that, Jackson says doctors often get blamed for issues of billing and scheduling, which are beyond their control.

“Physicians need to take back control of the practice of medicine,” he says. “Something has to be done.”

So, he’s gone back to school once more. He’s getting an MBA, in the hopes of working in health care business and administration, where he can help fix the clinical situation.

“If I can do anything to fix the situation, I want to do that,” he says.

Jackson (far right) with his husband and twin daughters

A CA alumnus and a father of twins

Though it’s deep and complex, James is confident that he can fix the problem in medicine—in part because of his time as a CA student.

“I was always a goal-setting person, but realizing that I could set my goals a lot further and reach them happened at CA,” he says. “Having someone believe in you as student and person, and having the support of an academic community and teachers who cared that you were learning something rather than just completing assignments…before CA, I didn’t know such a place existed.”

At CA, Jackson also found support as he began the process of coming out as gay.

When he wrote about coming out in his assignments for English class, his teacher Nancy Babbs reached out to him. She asked if he’d talked to anyone else about being gay and recommended some resources for him. Today, 25 years later, he still has friends from the young men’s group she connected him with.

“Mrs. Babbs was amazing and really helped me in many ways,” he says. “She made me feel like I wasn’t alone, which went a long way toward making me a healthier person.”

Healthy enough to perform on stage, start his own massage business, become an ER doctor, tackle giant problems in the medical industry—and now, raise twin daughters.

Jackson and his husband have already checked potty training off their parenting milestone list and are thinking about Kindergarten. They want to find a school where their kids can be challenged by great education opportunities and supported by people who believe in them. Of course, CA is on their list.