Undeclared to MD Anderson: Meet SCSD Alumna Jaimie Payne

Untitled-8-01How does one go from being an undeclared sophomore to working for MD Anderson, one of the most revered cancer hospitals in the world? Jaimie Payne figured it all out and this is her story.

Payne started at Florida State University in 2007 as an undeclared major. “I loved Tallahassee,” Payne said. During her first two years, she attended all the university workshops to help her find a major. Little did she know, it would be a classified ad that would change her life forever.

She answered an ad seeking a tutor for a special needs teenager in the Center for Civic Leadership and Education newsletter. In October of 2007, Jaimie started tutoring John Howard twice a week. It quickly turned into five days a week and some weekends and within those days and hours, Jaimie Payne found her calling. “I really found purpose and love in what I did everyday working with John Howard,” she said.

Jaimie with John Howard

During a therapy session, Jaimie watched a speech language pathologist working with John Howard and a few other teenagers on social skills. “I was intrigued,” she admitted. That semester, Jaimie signed up for an introduction to communication science and disorders course. By her junior year, she was in the program.

“I didn’t want to graduate with a generic degree,” Payne said. “I really wanted to find an expertise.”

Once in the School of Communication Science and Disorders, Jaimie flourished. She wrote an Honors thesis under the direction of Dr. Carla Wood. Her thesis, “College Students’ Perceptions of Attributes Associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” is being publishedin Communication Disorders Quarterly this year.

Jaimie had found her calling and graduate school followed. “I was very fortunate to be accepted into FSU’s competitive graduate program as it is consistently one of the top ranked U.S. programs in Speech Language Pathology!” shared Payne. During her graduate studies, she worked as a teaching assistant for the Distance Learning Program and was a recipient of the William G. and Alma Anderson Scholarship for academic excellence and interest in aphasia. In addition, she served on the Student Leadership Council within the College of Communication and Information.

After putting in her time in the student clinic, Payne jumped into work as a graduate student clinician at Tallahassee Memorial Rehabilitation Center and Archbold Hospital. During her final summer, Jaimie worked with cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and extensive surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center Orlando. When she graduated in August 2013, she didn’t have a job lined up – “Everyone looked at me like I was crazy on graduation day,” she shared. “I was waiting for a job in a hospital and all of my peers had other jobs lined up.”

Once again, Jaimie’s unconventional route paid off – big time. Two months later, she accepted a job offer at the top cancer hospital in the world – University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

Jaimie and the MD Anderson team

November 2013 proved to be the start of the hardest year of Jaimie’s life. “Many times, I really didn’t think I could make it,” she shared. The youngest member of a world-renowned speech pathology team led by Dr. Jan S. Lewin, Jaimie gave everything she had to prove herself. It was a year of ups and downs, failures and successes.

Jaimie and her grandfather, James Anderson, who passed from a brain tumor. “He is without a doubt a source of inspiration in my life and my work,” said Jaimie.

She finished her clinical fellowship and is thriving at MD Anderson. On a daily basis, Jaimie works in an inpatient and outpatient setting evaluating and treating patients with cognitive-lingusitic, swallowing, and communication disorders, including aphasia. Each patient she encounters has cancer and she says working with patients with brain tumors is a passion of hers.

Jaimie recently received her Certificate of Clinical Competence, that certifies her to practice as a fully licensed Speech Language Pathologist. When she isn’t working, Jaimie loves to explore Houston and travel as often as she can. Find out more about the Speech Language Pathology programs within the College of Communication and Information here.

“Days are long. Work is never ending. But what I do matters. It changes someone’s life, hopefully for the better.”