For Dr. Tamara Harper, the pandemic has highlighted the fragility of life — but also its strength.
Harper, a pediatrician affiliated with Singing River, may have to wear masks and protective gear all day, but she and her patients still somehow understand each other.
“It’s amazing how babies are so resilient,” she says, “seeming to notice even my smiling eyebrows while never having seen my teeth and genuine smile.”
Medicine may not have been Harper’s first career goal — that was becoming a McDonald’s cashier at age 6 — but it has been her most abiding passion. The Moss Point native decided she wanted to become a doctor when she was hospitalized at Singing River Hospital, Pascagoula, with a septic knee.
Her interest continued to grow throughout her childhood and culminated with a summer science academy at Xavier University in Louisiana, where she would go on to complete her undergraduate studies. She earned her medical doctorate from the University of South Alabama College of Medicine in 1998 and completed her pediatrics residency there in 2001.
Harper chose pediatrics as her specialty for a simple reason: “Kids are fun!”
“I am certain that I am walking in my calling as a pediatrician. I consider pediatrics my ministry.”
“Yes, even those who scream at the mere site of a stethoscope or white coat, or those who suddenly develop lockjaw when you present a tongue depressor, will be the same child who later runs down the hall screaming your name and clinging to your leg with the skill of a koala,” she says. “I am certain that I am walking in my calling as a pediatrician. I consider pediatrics my ministry.”
In that ministry, the doctor has seen several seemingly hopeless situations turn around. In fact. she considers pediatrics a miracle profession in and of itself.
“I am always reminded of God’s beauty in the advancement of medicine,” she says, “especially when I get to serve a patient from infancy into adulthood (and see them) matriculate into college after having been born extremely premature, weighing in at barely over 1 pound, and perhaps not having a chance of survival 25 years ago.”
Of all the medical advances Harper has witnessed, few are as impressive to her as immunizations. Diseases like polio, smallpox, measles, mumps, and rubella have been essentially eradicated, she notes, to the point that most of her peers have seen few, if any, cases, of them.
“The world at large has benefited immensely from the power of immunizations,” she says, “and pediatricians have the privilege of standing on the front line of protecting children and the public at large.
“As a pediatrician, with the latest surge of Covid, I am excited and hopeful for the approval of a Covid vaccination for children under the age of 12 in the very near future.”
In five, 10 and even 20 years, Harper expects pediatricians will continue to serve an important role in growing families. She considers it an honor and privilege to offer reassurance, support, and healing as her patients grow and thrive from infancy into adulthood.
“At this stage in my career, I am even starting to see former patients return as they become parents,” she says, “which is definitely a gratifying feeling.”