Becoming who I am today

A message to future doctors

My dad taught me that laughter can be the best medicine, and in many ways, how to be the doctor I am today. Now, he will teach you.


The three men in this world who never let me down: Ben & Jerry and my dad.

My dad always knew when to surprise me with my favorite flavors of Ben & Jerry’s. Whether I was going through a breakup, a board exam or a big deadline, he was there with ice cream and a spoon in hand. It was during these treasured moments, sometimes eating directly from the pint, that we would talk about anything and everything. As the ice cream softened with each scoop, I could feel my worries and fears melt away. They were replaced with a sense of resolve, a feeling of renewal and a state of readiness to face life’s challenges.

Little did I know the challenges life would bring. I thought the hardest day of my life was the day I learned my dad was diagnosed with dementia. I was wrong – the hardest day of my life was the day my father died. He was more than just my ice-cream-eating partner. He was a scientist, a musician and a loving father. He was a comedian, a world-traveler, an avid gardener, and my anchor to earth. He taught me how laughter can be the best medicine, and in many ways, how to be the doctor I am today. Now, he will teach you.

As a man of science, my dad will live on through science as his body was donated to the Virginia State Anatomical Program. This means he will train future physicians in the anatomy lab. He will be your best teacher and will help guide you through these next steps of your medical school journey. Please honor and respect his memory during each interaction with your body donor in the anatomy lab. In your future practice, acknowledge his contribution, and the collective contribution of those who donated their bodies every time you safely perform a surgical procedure, diagnose a problem on a physical exam or apply an osteopathic manipulation.

Dr. Alyssa Cole Mixon with her father, Jim Mixon.

Allow me to tell you about my father, so he may continue to live on through the lives you save, the patients you treat and the discoveries you make.

My father always encouraged me to achieve my dreams, no matter how big they were. In elementary school, when I told him I wanted to be a princess, he built me a tree-fort “castle” in our backyard and said, “You already are a princess.” Years later, he reiterated this as he drove me through one of the worst snowstorms imaginable so I could compete in a local Miss America pageant. He said all I was missing was the crown and to go on stage and get it.

Alyssa and her dad hugging after she won a Miss America local pageant.

When I told him I wanted to be an Olympic figure skater at age 14, he signed me up for lessons. All my classmates were so much younger, they thought I was their coach. My dad said, “Someday you might be.”

In high school, he drove me home after a big test. I shared that, while I didn’t do as well as I had hoped, I scored higher than two-thirds of the class. He looked at me with disappointment, not because my grade wasn’t perfect, but because of how I attempted to validate it. He said, “Never compare yourself to others like that. You cannot improve yourself through others’ shortcomings. Tell me about the third of the class who scored higher than you. Look to them for guidance and success so you not only achieve it but pass it on to the rest.” It has stuck with me ever since.

One of my father’s most memorable quotes was, “A lie can travel around the world faster than the time it takes truth to put its boots on.” With the current age of technology, social media and artificial intelligence, misinformation is rampant. His message continues to serve as a reminder for me to always seek the truth and speak the truth. In this and many other ways, he challenged me to be better, smarter, stronger and kinder.

While he challenged me, I also challenged him. I was constantly asking questions about life, politics, culture and history, wanting to learn more. If he didn’t have the answer, he would spend hours to days to weeks finding one for me.

When I told him I wanted to be a doctor, he joked, “Good, I’ll need one after raising you.”

In medical school, I shared with him my passion for anatomy, neurology and the osteopathic medical philosophy because it centers around the body’s ability to heal and rehabilitate itself. I told him how I wished there was a medical field where I could incorporate these disciplines. He said, “You’re talking about physiatry.” While I knew my dad worked as a medical researcher in neuroscience before I was born, I did not realize until that moment his research had been conducted under the direction of a physiatrist. This is the conversation that introduced me to my specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation.

In residency, as dementia was rapidly taking my father away from me, every patient I saw reminded me of him. When I looked through a chart, I saw more than a diagnosis, a name or an age. I saw the person beyond the patient, their emotional struggles, their families, their lives at home and the challenges they faced.

When the doctors told me I could not heal my dad, I was devastated. The feeling of helplessness was agonizing. I struggled to accept that, despite all my medical training, resources, knowledge and advancements in science and technology, I could not cure my dad. I learned to channel my emotions into doing everything in my power to help others. This is what I strive to do every day at work. As an osteopathic physician, I found health in my father just as I do in my patients. As a physiatrist, I optimized his quality of life. And as a daughter, I told him how much I loved him.

I am so grateful he saw me not only graduate from medical school, residency and fellowship, but also become a board-certified physiatrist. It was one of the last accomplishments he observed before he passed away in January 2023.

Alyssa and her father at Alyssa’s medical school graduation, where she officially became Dr. Alyssa Cole Mixon.

I know my father is as proud of you as he is of me, and that he is committed to helping you succeed. He will live on through the knowledge he imparts to his physician students. He will forever help in expanding and contributing to our depth of scientific understanding as you, his students, work to help patients, save lives and cure diseases like the dementia he worked so hard to overcome.

It feels unreal to exist in a world where my father does not, but I believe his essence, the elemental forms that make up the human body, will remain in our galaxy for an infinite amount of time. The first law of thermodynamics states energy is neither created nor destroyed, which means his energy is all around us. Perhaps this energy may one day be converted into the Forget-Me-Not flowers planted every year during body donor remembrance ceremonies at medical schools around the world.

Someone told me grief is love with no place to go. As much as I wish I could share one more pint of Ben & Jerry’s with my dad, I am channeling that love into sharing his story, honoring his legacy and passing on his lessons and selfless contributions to you. So, when you find yourself in the anatomy lab, rest assured my father will not let you down. Use this opportunity to learn what you need to be the best physician you can be and continue to give back to others through medicine, laughter and, in the most special cases, ice cream.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.


  1. Ellen and Arthur Menard

    Cont…I cried all the way through, Dr. Cole. Knowing your sweet Dad as I did, I felt and saw his “essence” in every word. He was one of the chief reasons I switched my primary care to be watched over by you and your Osteopathic medical colleagues. Jim’s essence around us is one of the soothing words he would have used for others, who’ve left this earthly life a much, much better place. Your words, daughter and physician, are wonderful tribute to your Dad – truly one of the best people I’ve ever know. Your words of tribute are a wonderful way to feel his essence every day.


    I enjoyed reading you’re very heartfelt touching story. I want to thank you for taking time to share the story. I certainly have the same sentiments about my father. Thank you again.

  3. Swathi Deo Sambatha

    This was a very beautiful story. Thank you for giving me the chance to learn about your father. Good luck with all of your future adventures.

  4. Sean

    Lovely sentiment, and sorry for the loss of your father way too early. With that said, it sounds as though he taught you countless invaluable lessons and will have more to teach those willing to see and learn from his body. I bet you are a fantastic PM and R Doc!

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