Overton-born physician returns to East Texas

Charles Dickens once wrote that every traveler has a home of their own, and they learn to appreciate it more from their wandering.

Overton native Dr. Julie Philley understands this lesson well, having traveled far and wide since taking her first steps in a journey that has now brought her back to East Texas.

Philley, a 1995 honors graduate from Overton High School, has joined the staff of University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler as a critical care specialist at the Pulmonary Clinic, coming from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

“I’m really happy to be back,” she said. “I feel very fortunate in having grown up in East Texas and I look forward to working closer to home.”

But it’s not only proximity to family and old friends that brought her back to the area. There’s a professional interest as well.

“I came back here to do mycobacteria research,” she said. “I developed an interest in that during my time in Baltimore and then continued in Dallas when I did my fellowship.”

Philley explained that mycobacteria can cause serious illness in people with damaged lungs when the germs get into their lungs via air, water, or soil.

“So I’m here to really further research into mycobacteria, and the cousins of tuberculosis, research field,” she added.

Board certified in internal and pulmonary medicine, Philley served her internal medicine residency at Johns Hopkins University/Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, Md. and was honored on multiple occasions. In 2009 Philley received the institution’s Award for Humanism and Professionalism, the Resident of the Year award, and the Ambulatory Care Resident Award. Philley also completed a fellowship in mycobacterial disease at National Jewish Health Center in Denver and said she has a special research interest in treating patients with this condition.

“I’m fortunate to have two mentors here, in Dr. David Griffith and Dr. Richard Wallace,” she said. “I’m super fortunate to have this job and just really happy to be home.”

The daughter of longtime Overton High School instructor Jody and Dr. George Philley, plant pathologist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, Julie is actually one among the three of her five siblings who chose to join the medical field.

Amy, the eldest Philley child, is an ER nurse at Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler and younger brother Andrew Philley D.D.S practices dentistry at Tyler’s Brookside Dental, while her sister Kate is an attorney in Houston and Marlis, the youngest, is a teacher at Humble ISD.

Julie credits her parents with instilling a strong work ethic in all of the Philley children.

“We always worked on their farm,” she said. “They were always growing peaches and working extra projects and stuff to save money for all of us to go to college […] I think that work ethic helped to kind of see it through. Because otherwise I’m not sure I could have gone back to school and get a minor in chemistry and then apply to medical school.”

After high school Philley was well on her way to becoming a registered nurse, when a conversation with her mother led her down a different path.

“I went to Tyler Junior College for a year, started out with some basics, then moved to Texas Women’s University in Denton and finished with a BSN in nursing,” she said. “I actually had thought to advance my nursing career but, as soon as I started nursing school, I basically knew that I really wanted to go ahead and go to medical school.”

Philley remembers going home and talking to her mother in her classroom about it, and said she felt like there was just a body of knowledge she was never going to have if she stayed with nursing.

“I told her that I felt like I needed to maybe become a nurse practitioner or get a doctorate in nursing,” she said. “Mom said, ‘Why don’t you just try to go to medical school?’ I had never really thought about it, but when she said that it all just kind of clicked.”

Philley conceded that the journey of becoming a physician after coming from a small school in rural East Texas can be difficult, but far from impossible.

“I think it’s a huge misconception that if you grow up in a small town in a small public school that you can’t do or accomplish whatever you set your mind to,” she said. “It just really takes determination”

A determination combined with a singleness of purpose and a willingness to do what it takes to be successful, Philley added.

“It’s the desire to really put other things aside for the moment,” she said. “Things that maybe other people think they should have early in life, like a family or children or money.”

Having realistic goals was important too, Philley said.

“I didn’t start off thinking, ‘Well I think I’m going to go to Harvard to go to medical school,’” she said with a laugh. “I started off saying that I will go wherever anyone will take me, that I’m going to do the best job that I can do every step of the way.”

Starting small, making clear and realistic goals, and seeing things through to completion were a few of the things Philley said helped her along the way.

“Whenever I started in something I made it a goal to be the best that I could be at it,” she said.

These are attributes that are familiar to many in the Rusk County area, Philley said, traits she sees in so many of her friends and former classmates.

“I wouldn’t say any of us grew up with a whole lot, but we had parents that cared about us and we had opportunities through a close-knit school that lots of other people didn’t have,” she said. “It’s really surprised me the abundance of people who have come out of the Overton area who are just extremely successful in a variety of ways […] it’s really a special place.”

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