By Gary Pettus
Some days, it’s the questions you get; some days, it’s the ones you don’t get.
As the newest host of Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s statewide wellness call-in radio series, Southern Remedy, Dr. Jasmine Kency prefers the ones she gets – even those that momentarily may throw her off her game.
Like questions about mushrooms.
Last month, Kency, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center became host of Southern Remedy for Women; it has been a learning experience not only for her callers, but also, at times, for the call-ee.
“You really can’t prepare for some of the questions people will ask you,” said Kency, who is board-certified in internal medicine and pediatrics and serves as medical director of the Office of Patient Experience at UMMC.
“You’re guaranteed to get a question you’re not 100 percent sure of. But I took this on as an opportunity for me to grow as a physician. There are things I can learn from some of the questions people ask me.”
An example: For the March 31 episode about over-the-counter supplements, Kency was all set to answer questions about the most common types. Then, like a toadstool, it shot up out of nowhere: “I get a question about mushrooms – the one I know least about,” she said.
Fortunately, her guest that day was another UMMC authority, Dr. Daniel Riche, a professor of pharmacy practice who is conversant with fungi derivatives. Now, the curious caller, and Kency, are too.
Over the years, the physician had been a guest expert or pinch-hit host on several Southern Remedy programs before she entered the starting lineup in March. So, she did not go into this cold; in fact, as always, she is refreshingly warm.
“One thing listeners do not get to see about her is that she is always smiling,” said Dr. Michelle Horn, professor of general internal medicine and pediatrics and director of the Division of General Internal Medicine at UMMC.
“She has a beautiful smile and really puts patients at ease and, really, anyone who is around her.”
Every Friday starting at 11 a.m., Kency puts that smile into her voice from the moment she takes the mike in the MPB studios.
Hers is just one of several Southern Remedy programs, each demystifying subsets of a general area of interest, such as fitness or kids and health, and each with a different UMMC expert up to bat: Dr. Josie Bidwell, associate professor of preventive medicine and nurse practitioner; Dr. Susan Buttross, professor of pediatrics; Dr. Morgan McLeod, assistant professor of pediatrics and internal medicine; and, the longest-serving host, Dr. Jimmy Stewart.
“One thing that makes Dr. Kency a perfect host is she is a great physician whether she’s taking care of pediatric or adult patients,” said Stewart, professor of medicine and associate dean for Graduate Medical Education.
“Another thing: She has one of the best communication skills sets of anyone I know; she can explain complex problems to anyone in a way that they can easily understand them.”
Kency probably gets a lot of practice doing that at home in Madison. She is the parent of three children with her husband Dr. Fred Kency Jr., a UMMC assistant professor of emergency medicine; their oldest, Fred III, was the first baby born at UMMC on New Year’s Day 2015.
“He Googled himself one day,” Kency said. “Now, he says he’s famous.”
Being able to juggle her roles as physician and parent is one of Kency’s strengths,” Horn said. “She always balances home and work so well. She is always poised and professional, calm and collected.
“I’m thankful each and every day to get to work with her.”
Kency joined Horn’s division in 2016. A graduate of the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, Kency grew up in Huntsville, but, unlike a lot of people in that science-mad city, eluded the grasp of aerospace engineering.
After shadowing physicians during high school, she realized her heart for math and science, plus people, belonged to medicine.
The first physician in her family, she completed her residency at UMMC in 2015 in medicine-pediatrics – a two-in-one specialty that has rewarded Kency with “the best of both worlds,” she said.
Throughout her training, and beyond, Stewart has inhabited those worlds with her, as one of her most important mentors.
“Jimmy Stewart is one of the reasons I ultimately came to UMMC,” Kency said. He is almost certainly one of the reasons Kency was asked to join the Southern Remedy team; he, along with Horn, recommended her.
“It seemed like an opportunity to do something I enjoy – teaching,” Kency said. “I love teaching students and teaching my patients. Now, I can educate even more people about medicine.
“But, before I took the job, I talked with other hosts, and what they told me is that I should be myself. Sometimes, you may try to be what your idea of a radio host should be, but people want to hear from you, from the real you.
“I answer a caller’s question as if I’m speaking with a patient in the clinic.”
Although she sees children and men in her clinic, most of her patients are women. “When I pick topics for the radio program, I really look at some of the most common questions I get from female patients,” Kency said.
“And I ask my colleagues what’s trending, what people are talking about in medicine.”
As it turns out, on Southern Remedy for Women, they have also talked about, among other things, how to age gracefully, and age-appropriate screenings – which prompted a caller to inquire about the appropriate duration of a colonoscopy, another question that gave Kency pause.
But, on call-in radio, any question is better than the sound of crickets. “It can be hard to fill air time if you don’t get that many calls,” Kency said.
At any rate, the MPB staff is always ready to ride in on a white horse, Stewart said. “One of the best things in working with them is they prepare you very well. And, when there is a lull, Kevin Farrell, my producer, he has questions ready to ask me.”
There was no need for a rescue mission during Kency’s supplements show. “There was so much territory to cover, we decided to give it a Part 2,” she said.
Southern Remedy-wise, that level of interest is gratifying for everyone involved; it also underlines the value of the UMMC-MPB connection. “It’s a good partnership,” Stewart said. “It’s a great way of communicating to the public our missions and what UMMC is about.”
It’s also an excellent way to shore up another partnership, Kency said. “After the pandemic, this is also about trying to help rebuild that trust between doctors and patients, to remind patients that their providers are wonderful resources, and that we’re here for them.
“I love being a physician who gets to take care of family members from their infancy to what is called the Golden Years. I like the idea that my patients never have to leave me.”
In medicine, Kency has found her voice, not least of all on Fridays, starting at 11.