I spent my childhood along the banks of the Red River of the North, whose murky water flows backwards—from little puddles in South Dakota up to Lake Winnipeg. It was both the land of the prairie wind, which roared across the plains with only a rare shelter belt or grain elevator to slow it down, and a place of raw, stark beauty and unsurpassed simplicity.

Growing up in North Dakota introduced me to an endless series of adventures. I pedaled my bike all over town and out into the countryside. My friend Mary and I organized neighborhood parades and plays, and, one summer afternoon, we tried to dig to China. During the long, dark winters we built snow forts and, on the coldest days, made paper clothes for our paper dolls, guided by the fashions in the Sears, Roebuck, and Co. catalogue.

My first love affair occurred in kindergarten. I fell desperately, passionately in love with school and wanted to live forever in Horace Mann Elementary, where Miss Brown’s room would be my bedroom, I’d have my own private bathroom (the girls’ lavatory), and the library and its books would be mine alone. Learning to read opened a world of new places and ideas to me. In fact, I’ve never really left school. After high school, college, and then medical school and medical training in Nebraska, California, and Minnesota, with stops in Alaska and an Indian reservation spanning the Idaho-Nevada border, I landed at the University of Michigan as a faculty member, where I continue to love school.

As a scientist, I pursue the secrets of nature, and in my field of infectious diseases, those secrets are microscopic in size yet powerful in impact. As a pediatrician, I counsel my young patients and their families during their finest, as well as their worst possible, moments. As a teacher, I guide young physicians and scientists through their journeys toward successful lives and careers. As a literary writer, I integrate the scientific, medical, and personal truths I witness and make emotional sense of their meaning.

Q&A with Janet
Professional Bio