Committed to helping people change their lives, Dr. Nancy Jasso volunteers every Saturday at a laser tattoo-removal project she helped found. While giving up her spare time is difficult, she is willing to do so because it gives hope to others. "I have a lot of respect for the patients in the Tattoo Clinic. These are patients who are really trying to change their lives, and change is hard. And yet they've been courageous enough to actually try to put their life on a different track. So I figure anything that I can do to be helpful to them, I'm very willing to do."
Born in 1960, the youngest of seven children to parents who emigrated from Mexico, Nancy Jasso lost her father when he died suddenly of a post-operative complication when she was four and a half years old. This profound loss left her with a strong desire to understand what made the difference between life and death, and from a very young age she found herself drawn to the biological sciences.
While in high school she decided she wanted to be a doctor, but her counselors discourage her, warning her that her goal was too difficult. Instead they advised her to study engineering. After graduating at the top of her high school class, Nancy Jasso entered Stanford as an engineering major. She was still interested in a career as a physician though, and soon switched her major to human biology.
Stanford was a turning point for her, Jasso says. "... It really opened my eyes to understand that there were things that were possible for me that I might not have realized previously. At that point, I did really feel very comfortable to kind of dream big. Once I'd done that well at Stanford, I knew that really pretty much anything was going to be possible." She graduated in 1983.
Jasso then went on to Harvard Medical School, where her studies were more difficult and more consuming than she expected. She received her medical degree from Harvard in 1988, graduating in the top three percent of her class. At the same time, she received her M.P.H. in Public Health, specializing in health policy and health management.
Dr. Jasso completed a residency in internal medicine at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center in 1991. She decided to make a change while making rounds one day, realizing that she would prefer to specialize more narrowly and do something with a strong surgical component. "... All of a sudden I just had this great idea that I should become a dermatologist," Dr. Jasso recalled. "I had always paid a lot of attention to dermatology, just because as a primary care physician, you take care of a lot of people's skin problems. But I had never imagined myself as a specialist. And I think it's the best thing I could have done." Dr. Jasso was appointed chief of dermatology at Kaiser Permanente in 1994.
For the past four years, Dr. Jasso has volunteered her services to remove tattoos from young people, many of them former gang members. It is slow, difficult work, and each patient can require up to nine painful sessions. In exchange for the free removal of their tattoos, they volunteer 16 hours in their community. Dr. Jasso was one of the program's original physician-volunteers.
Dr. Jasso hears their stories, and is impressed with their courage. "That could have been me, and they could be me," she says. "It's kind of like it really just matters who's come into your life that's giving you a sense of hope, a sense of opportunity. I think that every single person has meaning in their life. I think that we all have the potential to really do extraordinary things."
In many ways, Dr. Jasso brings her community to work with her as part of her continuing effort to lead activities focused on improving the health and well-being of the Latino community. She serves as coordinator of the Women Physician's Conference at Kaiser Permanente, chairs Kaiser's Diversity Advisory Council, and sits on Kaiser's regional Culturally Responsive Care Committee.
In 1998, the Young Women's Christian Association of Los Angeles and KNBC-TV chose Dr. Jasso as one of the "Ten Incredible Women Making History". In 1999, she was selected "Exceptional Physician of the Year" by her peers at Kaiser Permanente. She has received numerous citations for excellence and leadership in medicine, including recognition by Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.