Dr. Katherine Y. King is an Associate Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Baylor College of medicine. She studied biochemical sciences at Harvard University and then completed a dual-degree program at Washington University in St. Louis where she earned both her M.D. and Ph.D. over the course of seven years. She returned to Houston to complete her residency and fellowship at Baylor. In addition to her research, she is also a co-founder and serves on the advisory board of Doctors For Change
, a nonprofit that seeks “to increase access to care and improve the health of all Houstonians and all Texans through research, education, collaboration, and advocacy.”
King was drawn to medicine and the idea of helping others from a young age. She credits her maternal grandparents for teaching her how to “make life worthwhile by serving communities in need.” She felt inspired by her grandfather, who worked for the United Nations building sewage systems for developing countries. Her mother dedicated her career to teaching early childhood education and her father was a computer scientist. Her parents moved to Houston when her father accepted a job at the University of Houston. King was first exposed to real-world applications of science soon after she started at St. John’s in Class 6. She remembers when the School told her about the Research Science Institute summer camp that was taking applications from students across the nation but would only accept 100 participants, and only two per state. Because the program had accepted students from St. John’s in previous years, King believes she never would have been given the opportunity – let alone been accepted – had she attended a different school. After that summer, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in science.
During college, King applied to be a leader for the Freshman Outdoor Program (FOP) at Harvard. Upon acceptance, she was required to complete an outdoor first-responder training class. It was during this program that she realized her love for taking care of others. She worked in a research lab at Harvard, but it wasn’t until she studied the causes of strep throat during her Ph.D. that she decided she wanted to work on a widespread health problem, which eventually led her to microbiology and infectious diseases. Because Houston has one of the top pediatric training programs in the nation, King decided to come home and complete her residency training in pediatrics at Baylor. She stayed for an additional year as chief resident and then completed her pediatric infectious diseases fellowship training at Baylor. It was
during her fellowship that she began studying how the bone marrow responds to infections – research she continues today.
King’s work to understand how the body regulates blood production to fight infections is especially relevant to patients fighting prolonged or severe infections, and those with cancer. She is Board Certified in Pediatrics and Pediatric Infectious Diseases and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. King’s work has been published in numerous scientific publications and garnered millions of dollars of research funding from the National Institutes of Health and other research foundations. In 2019 she received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).
King believes the three pillars of her career are medicine, research, and advocacy – none can work without the other and all three are needed in order for her to help a patient. During her residency, she and other doctors would frequently discuss frustrations with trying to “take care of people in a system that seems to work against patients.” It was then that she and her colleagues founded Doctors For Change (DFC) in the hopes of educating patients about resources they might not know are available to them. In turn, DFC also educates doctors about many social issues that are not covered in medical school. For example, DFC currently holds educational forums and lectures in the evening about human trafficking so that medical providers can learn about them, and doctors can recognize victims and get them the help they need. King feels privileged to have a career she finds “endlessly interesting.” Helping patients is directly rewarding, but she also uses research as her creative outlet, which gives her the chance to see others grow and develop as scientists. In addition to her research, DFC gives her the chance to do “meaningful work for people who don’t have the resources or the voice to speak.”
King has nothing but fond memories of her time at St. John’s. She embraced all aspects of school life and continues to have longstanding friendships with her classmates. She especially remembers her time in Mr. Sirignano’s Latin class, a course that came in handy later when she studied biology. King also feels grateful for the “excellent” and “extremely valuable” training in writing she had at St. John’s. She says it was more significant than any other training she received at Harvard, and it is by far the most important skill she uses in her research today. Beyond her academic experiences, King has seen the power and support of the St. John’s community firsthand. When her house flooded during Hurricane Harvey, she and her family were suddenly surrounded by alumni, students, and parents who showed up at her door ready to help. “The community was there for me and I will always remember that.”