Member of the Month: Troy Russell

Tags: member of the month, family medicine, aafp, tafp, medical student, public health

Member of the Month: Troy Russell

Student member chooses specialty through passion for public health, research

posted 07.15.12

Troy Russell, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, entered medical school without any idea of which specialty to pursue. Yet, drawing from his life-changing experience on a mission in Honduras that inspired him to study public health, and feeling invigorated by the interesting and diverse practice in his family medicine clerkship, he is certain he has settled on the right specialty.

In addition to the “great sense of reward” from his patients, he appreciates the ample opportunity for public policy research as a future family physician. “Increased emphasis on improving the quality of health care gives family medicine researchers the chance to frame the debate and build a health delivery model centered on our patients. I feel fortunate to be joining the profession in a time when we can reshape the medical landscape for the better.”

Troy was awarded a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience by Brigham Young University, and during his time there conducted research in the departments of Biophysics, Neuroscience, and Mechanical Engineering, and in the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore. He has since conducted research with the Department of Radiology at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; the Department of Pediatric Neuroscience at Phoenix Children’s Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz.; and the Office of the State Epidemiologist at the Texas Department of State Health Services in Austin.

He is the current TAFP student delegate to AAFP and will travel to the AAFP National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Students later this month.


Why did you choose medicine, and what’s your favorite aspect of it? Were you inspired by anyone? I come from a family better known for its engineers than anything related to health care. During high school I became interested in film and decided the practical choice in college was to double major in film and mechanical engineering.

After completing my freshmen year, I went to Honduras for two years on a mission for my church. While there I was exposed to its extreme poverty, human rights violations, and significant disparities in public health. I can’t say I was mentally prepared to see these things as a 19-year-old. Neither did I expect to help deliver a neighbor’s child while kneeling on a cold, cement floor. Just as many others have done after similar experiences, I decided I needed to look for a new career path. When I returned home I changed my major to neuroscience with every intention to pursue medicine and public health.

My favorite part of medicine has been my interaction with patients and helping them understand their condition. I love when the figurative light bulb turns on and my patient decides to take a more active role in her health. This is common among the family medicine physicians I have met and I feel fortunate to have worked with so many who share the same zeal for primary care.

Past TAFP President Dr. Ashok Kumar, M.D., has supported me from the beginning and was the first to suggest I become involved in TAFP and AAFP. Dr. Carlos Jaen, M.D., Ph.D., and Dr. Robert Ferrer, M.D., M.P.H., have been influential examples of how to integrate public health research into my future clinical practice.

What interests you about family medicine? With no family or other influential connection to medicine, I entered medical school with a clean slate. Once I began my family medicine clerkship I quickly realized how excited I was to do it all. The medicine was interesting and diverse while the patients were fun and appreciative. I grew to love the continuity of care that family medicine provides. It gives me the opportunity to work with and help my patients in so many ways. The best part is the great sense of reward after a day with my patients, a feeling that confirms I have made the correct specialty choice.

Another great thing about family medicine is the ample opportunity for research. I see exciting opportunities to contribute to primary care practice, administration, and public policy research. Increased emphasis on improving the quality of health care gives family medicine researchers the chance to frame the debate and build a health delivery model centered on our patients. I feel fortunate to be joining the profession in a time when we can reshape the medical landscape for the better.

What keeps you going during medical school when the going gets tough? Frequently when it seemed a “perfect storm” of challenges got in the way of me enjoying what I was doing, my family and friends would ask me, “Do you still love it?” After a pause and some introspection, the answer was always yes. They always responded with, “then what else matters?” They helped keep things in perspective. Though there are rough spots, we make it through because we still love it.

How do you promote family medicine at your school? Once I decided to pursue family medicine I became actively involved with TAFP and AAFP. Attending the conferences solidified my commitment to the specialty and helped motivate me to reach out to those still on the fence. To help promote family medicine nationally I recruited medical faculty and other students to participate in a short 30-second ad for the AAFP National Conference video contest. We ended up winning the contest with the best overall ad and we will be donating the $1,000 award to the San Antonio FMIG. In March I was elected as our chapter’s student delegate. I am proud to represent Texas to the AAFP National Congress and express our students’ interests and concerns.

Other than family medicine, what has been your favorite rotation and why? I really enjoyed my pediatric and ob/gyn rotations, but I think internal medicine was my favorite. The acute and unpredictable nature of the IM inpatient census made every day challenging. I feel lucky having had great attending physicians and residents who not only were down to earth but enjoyed teaching. That being said, I did miss the patient interaction and continuity of care I found in family medicine.

What is the best lesson you have learned in med school? The best lesson I learned in medical school is to do what I love and not allow others to dissuade me. For me the one thing I knew I wanted was to study public health while in medical school. I had many try to discourage me from applying to public health programs, but now after participating in the M.D./M.P.H. program in San Antonio I can’t imagine studying medicine any other way. This has been an invaluable lesson as each decision was built on the previous one. As I have pursued the things I have enjoyed, it led me to family medicine. Family medicine may not have been on the radar in the beginning but the more I experienced it the more I knew it was what I wanted to do.

What are your future goals when you go into practice? After residency I plan on applying for a NRSA Primary Care Research Fellowship to pursue additional training in analyzing health quality improvement initiatives and public policies addressing health disparities. The end goal is to practice family medicine in an academic center, work with students and residents, and continue to be involved in public health research. Yet, among these things the most important part will be caring for my patients.

What are you looking forward to the most when you attend AAFP’s National Conference at the end of the month? I am most looking forward to meeting with the residency programs at the residency fair. I hope to get a feel for some programs before applications and interviews this fall. I am pretty excited to meet other medical students from around the country and learn some of the new developments in the specialty.

How do you spend your free time? I just finished my third year rotations so in reality I can’t remember!

The most important resource TAFP and AAFP offer me is: the continuous news of state and national events affecting the specialty. TAFP and AAFP do a great job providing this relevant information so I can know what changes are occurring in medical education, GME funding, and practice structure. I also appreciate how much they do to advocate for patient-centered care and advancing the specialty.

TAFP’s Member of the Month program highlights Texas family physicians in TAFP News Now and on the TAFP website. We feature a biography and a Q&A with a different TAFP member each month and his or her unique approach to family medicine. If you know an outstanding family physician colleague who you think should be featured as a Member of the Month or if you’d like to tell your own story, nominate yourself or your colleague by contacting Kate Alfano by e-mail at or by phone at (512) 329-8666 ext. 16. View past Members of the Month here.