Meet Jon-Paul Pepper, USC Stem Cell principal investigator and director of the USC Facial Nerve Center

Jon-Paul Pepper (Photo courtesy of Keck Medicine of USC)
Jon-Paul Pepper (Photo courtesy of Keck Medicine of USC)

Meet Jon-Paul Pepper, director of the USC Facial Nerve Center and assistant professor of clinical otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at Keck Medicine of USC. As a surgeon and scientist, he is striving for foundational medical breakthroughs. His goal is to offer his patients the best of academic medicine in a way that honors the interpersonal connection between physician and patient. He’s also a USC Stem Cell principal investigator, and is currently earning a master’s degree in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.

Here’s what you won’t find on his resume:

You may have heard his name before.

“Some of my patients get a kick out of the fact that I am Dr. Pepper, like the soda. My family loves this and we live it. For instance, my father was in the military and he was Sgt. Pepper, which will be familiar to music fans. My uncle is also Dr. Pepper, and he has a PhD in animal behavior. We pretty much have the Pepper branding covered.”

If he wasn’t a physician, he might coach college football.

“I have always been a football fan, and if I could trade careers with someone, it would be with Jim Harbaugh, head football coach of the Michigan Wolverines. I spent my internship, residency and fellowship at the University of Michigan. It’s so amazing for me to be able to see him go back to where he played college football and now be the leader of the team. I think there are parallels between fielding an excellent football team and creating a world-class health care team. I am completely unqualified to coach a football team, by the way.”

He wants to remain a teacher for the rest of his life.

“Three things I look forward to doing in my life are: running a marathon, visiting Banff, and becoming a teacher after I retire from working as a physician. Teaching is one of my favorite parts of medicine.”

He was inspired to follow his passion.

“Someone once told me that when choosing a hobby or a career, do the thing that you love to practice. Your enjoyment of practice will lead to greater mastery. That will therefore lead to success.”

Working at a clinic drove him to be a doctor.

“When I was young, I worked at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic in San Francisco. Working there was so fun. I just loved it. The ability to connect with people motivated me. I slowly came to realize that taking care of people is a privilege enjoyed by few and thus, what I wanted to do with my life.”
He directs a facial nerve center dedicated to treating facial paralysis.

“Directing a facial nerve center is only possible at a major academic medical center. Working at Keck Medicine of USC also allows me to work on advanced research. I am directing an effort to bring human stem cell technology into the clinic as a treatment for facial paralysis. My work is still in the early stages, but it is developing rapidly. One thing I want to see in my lifetime is the advent of stem cell therapy that will improve the lives of my patients”

His approach toward patient care matches Keck Medicine of USC’s vision.

“Although Keck Medicine of USC is a major academic medical center, our physicians have uncommonly strong clinical training and dedication to patient care. Even our most established physicians have a mentality that ‘no job is too small’ when it comes to patient care. I have been impressed with our collective will to engage in all levels of the patient experience in order to ensure that our patients receive excellent care.”