Tracking HIV Care: Jane Wheelock Turner ‘64

by Marjorie Smith

Through a series of carefully contemplated life and career choices. Jane Turner just might have it all. Graduating from Scripps, with a math major, she made the leap into a then relatively unknown profession called computer programming until the lure of marriage and motherhood beckoned. Willingly she went.

“My priorities changed when my husband and I started a family. Actually, it was a relatively easy choice; I wanted to be a full-time stay-at-home mom until I was certain my children no longer needed me there.”

For Jane, that time came when her youngest child started second grade. With both children in school, her focus turned back toward the job market and thoughts of a professional career. But with one remarkable change.

“Computer technology had changed so much. Even if I wanted to return to that industry, I knew I would have to update my skills, which meant back to the classroom. And considering that, I opted for something a little different.”

So at 44, Jane returned to school part-time to study epistemology.

“Epistemology,” she explains, “is the study of diseases in populations. It is the statistical science that involves the analysis and collection of data critical for the control of health problems.”

Fortunately, her enthusiasm for this subject helped her over scholastic hurdles and several years of being a part-time student/full-time mother.

Starting at USC, she discovered she would essentially have to repeat her undergraduate program—this time in science. So Jane found herself ensconced in a veritable forest of classes like bio-chemistry and some of the heavier selections from the pre-med program. Upon completion of these courses Jane made the move to the graduate program at UCLA’s School of Public Health, and, in 1994, was finally awarded her coveted master’s degree.

With a host of new skills, and after a brief and much needed break, Jane began working as a full-fledged epidemiologist for the LA County Department of Health Services (LACDHS), HIV Epistemology Program. Currently , she serves as the project coordinator for the Adult/Adolescent Spectrum of Disease (ASD) Program, a program that studies trends in health care of persons in Los Angeles County living with HIV.

She notes: “The analysis of the data we gather reveals significant trends that we gather reveals significant trends that are tracked and studied. This information is critical both to the development of public policy regarding the the HIV-infected, both locally and nationally.”

Even now, with close to a decade working with LACDHS, Jane remains fascinated and excited by the abundance of information her research is able to uncover and the impact of those findings.

“The development of new drugs to treat HIV has been effective enough that so many who are HIV positive are able to manage the disease with drug therapy. This is an extremely positive development that has downgraded the status of disease from fatal to chronic in most infected people.

“If we keep moving in this direction, I’m hopeful that an HIV vaccine will be on the horizon soon.”

Although almost four decades have passed since her tim spent at Scripps, Jane fondly recalls: “Scripps women have a unique opportunity with the marriage of small, liberal arts Scripps to larger university setting of “The Claremont Colleges. I would urge every student to explore and take advantage of the sheer variety of classes available because in this type of system you truly can become academically and personally well-rounded. For me, it was an invaluable experience.”

Looking over the diversity of her achievements, this computer programmer turned stay-at-home mom, turned epidemiologist offers sound advice.