A conversation with a biology professor more than 20 years ago helped put Elizabeth Whittington’s career path in perspective. Whittington didn’t know it at the time.
“When I came to the W, I chose a topic that fascinated me, but was also my most difficult subject in school—science. I enrolled as a biology major to pursue medicine.”
After researching almost 50 schools, Whittington ultimately decided to enroll at The W.
“I initially looked at Sweet Briar College in Virginia until my high school counselor told me there was a women’s college in Mississippi. I had gone to Governor’s School at The W, but never made the connection. Once I realized what The W had to offer, I was sold. I didn’t even apply anywhere else,” she said.
“I knew it was co-ed, but I loved the fact it was established as a women’s college. It was small, beautiful and affordable. When I was choosing schools, I had an idea of what type of school I wanted to go to, and The W checked off all the boxes.”
As a student, Whittington was involved on campus, participating in student government, the Meh Lady yearbook and was a member of BlackList and Troubadour social clubs. She was also earnest when it came to her academics, but recalled some challenging moments.
“I loved science and math, but the lab work was not my forte. After a few frustrating nights in the lab, my professor, Nora Howell said the only reason I had a good grade in her class was because of my written exams. She suggested I concentrate on writing about science instead of practicing science. I took that advice, went on to graduate school in journalism and now have a successful career in healthcare communications, all thanks to the tough conversation with Nora,” said Whittington.
The late Howell was a longtime professor at The W, teaching from 1962-2001. She inspired many students to pursue careers in medicine and the sciences and entered the field at a time when few other women followed that path. Whittington added, “I had a wonderful set of professors who not only knew my name, but gave me personalized advice about my career choices—even if it was not what I wanted to hear at the time.”
After graduating from The W in 2000 with a degree in biology, Whittington attended Ole Miss to earn her master’s in journalism with a focus on science writing. She wrote for the daily student newspaper to build up her portfolio.
She moved to Dallas, where she worked for a medical publishing company copyediting oncology journals.
Eventually she transitioned to a new magazine in the company, CURE, which was for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. She spent more than 10 years at CURE, moving from staff writer to assistant managing editor to digital editor.
Whittington said, “It was personally and professionally fulfilling, as it offered me an opportunity to help people dealing with cancer while also growing and learning about the digital publishing and healthcare industries. After the company was sold in 2015, I took an even more fulfilling job with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as its first director of digital media. I’m over a wonderful team in charge of clinical care and research content on the website, as well as social media and physician communications.”
Whittington is in her fourth year at St. Jude. The research hospital in Memphis is leading efforts in the treatment and prevention of childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
“While most people know about St. Jude through our fundraising campaigns, my job is to highlight the exceptional clinical care and research at the institution. One of the first things I did was hire someone to focus solely on social media, which was recently recognized as the No. 1 cancer center account on Instagram,” she said.
Whittington also led the development and launch of the institution’s first blog focused on science and medicine, St. Jude Progress. It was recently highlighted as a FOLIO finalist for best nonprofit blog.
She said, “We now have an entire group under our content team to focus on progress, engaging our clinicians and researchers to share their work. We are also focusing more on engaging with referring physicians around the country to help enroll our clinical trials in rare childhood diseases. I’m so proud of the work our team does.”
Whittington never abandoned her love of words and continues to have “an insatiable appetite for reading and writing.”
Admitting her slight addiction to leadership, business and self-help books, Whittington is currently reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama.
“I’m what you call an infinite learner. I recently finished my MBA at Christian Brothers University, where every door says ‘Enter to Learn, Exit to Serve.’ I’m taking that to heart. I’m now applying for an adjunct professor position to give back.”
Whittington is serving St. Jude in many ways. An avid runner, she finished her first marathon with St. Jude in 2017.
She was one of thousands of participants who has raised millions of dollars for the kids of St. Jude. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but with anything that starts out difficult, it makes crossing the finish line so much more rewarding.”