Tell us about your career path.
Growing up on a farm helping my dad care for our animals taught me to love medicine. I gave my first injections in elementary school to cattle. With my love of animals, I intended to become a veterinarian, but my life took a different direction in the summer after my graduation from Abilene Christian University, when I spent a month shadowing a family physician caring for patients in the mountains of Guatemala. I completed medical school at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, followed by my family medicine residency and a geriatrics fellowship at JPS in Fort Worth. Already having a genuine interest in global health, I was excited to begin caring for refugees in our Family Health Clinic as a resident, and refugee health care continues to be a significant part of my practice.
Through my career I have served as faculty for the JPS Family Medicine Residency and program director for the Geriatrics Fellowship, teaching students, residents, and fellows. Two years ago, I was asked to create a Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship for JPS, and in June 2023, we graduated our first two hospice and palliative medicine fellows. I continue to keep my inpatient hospital and obstetrics privileges. Along the way, I realized that I wanted additional leadership and management skills, so I completed my MBA with a health care emphasis in 2019. Understanding medicine from both the administrative and clinical sides has helped me become a better physician.
With my own rural background, I have enjoyed teaching trainees about rural medicine too. In recent years I have served as supervising faculty for students and residents on medical mission trips to small communities in West Texas where health care is scarce. The trips are eye opening for many of the trainees, and hopefully they will be inspired to work in rural areas where the need is so great. My interest in wilderness medicine developed after witnessing a serious medical situation on a medical mission trip to Zambia, and I have been the course director for a Wilderness Medicine course now for over 15 years. Wilderness medicine, rural medicine, global health, and refugee health all intersect by needing the same skills and creativity in each setting. Each place involves working with underserved patients with limited resources. When people ask how all of these interests can be mixed in a practice, I tell them “welcome to family medicine!”
Who or what inspired you to become a family physician?
As children, our physician was a small-town family physician who knew us well. Long before cell phones or pagers, I remember him sitting by the door next to the hall with the phone during church services so he could answer calls from nurses and patients. I remember being amazed at how he always had an answer for all our medical problems, no matter what the cause. When I was in medical school, he told me how he had completed medical school at the University of Texas at Galveston when malaria was still common on the Texas coast, before penicillin was widely available for use. He practiced well into his 80s, and he was buried a few months after his retirement in his white coat.
I enjoyed all my rotations in medical school. Caring for the youngest and oldest, along with doing women’s health were what I liked the most. Children are fun, full of potential, and as family physicians we have the opportunity to help shape their lives. My older patients have countless stories which I enjoy, and they appreciate the time I spend with them. I also like the challenge of the complexity in caring for older adults, being able to help them on multiple levels. When deciding upon a specialty, providing continuity of care for all ages was extremely important to me. I had also learned in medical school that I enjoyed procedures. Family medicine is the only specialty that allowed me to create my own path doing what I loved.
What ultimately drew you to academics?
I first started teaching children in high school, and I worked as an anatomy and physiology teaching assistant in college. When I entered medical school, I already knew I enjoyed teaching. Following residency, I was given the opportunity to do a part-time geriatrics fellowship where my time was split between being faculty and fellow. The chair of family medicine at JPS, Dr. Joane Baumer, gave me the chance to stay at JPS as faculty. In my career, I’ve taught numerous students, residents, and fellows in addition to practicing professionals. I normally have a trainee with me every time I see a patient. Helping students through their first patient encounter, and then watching those same students mature into talented health professionals is extremely rewarding. My passion for teaching has advanced to where I now teach faculty development with the University of North Texas HSC Faculty Development Center. I love to teach! I am so grateful for all my teachers.
You were named the TAFP Foundation’s Texas Philanthropist of the Year in 2022 for your work in training and mission trips. Tell us a little about the work you’ve done all over the world.
Caring for the vulnerable is my personal mission in life. My passion for medical missions began long before medical school, and medical missions continue to bring me great joy. I have been blessed to teach and serve in 21 countries on five different continents, something this farm girl could never have imagined. I routinely take students, residents, and fellows on these trips. By taking trainees on these trips, I hope to instill in them a desire to serve those patients with the most need. On these trips I have also learned much about health care systems in other countries through our exchanges. People are basically the same throughout the world with the same essential needs and desires, and we have so much to learn from each other.
Why do you choose to be a TAFP member?
TAFP represents me and my patients. Each family physician is unique, but we all have common interests, joys, frustrations, and sorrows. The fellowship of other family physicians provided at TAFP conferences is refreshing.
What do you enjoy doing outside of medicine?
I enjoy outdoor activities, especially, hiking, camping, and horseback riding. I feel completely at home surrounded by nature. I am also a member of a flute ensemble with the Fort Worth Medical Orchestra. We recently had our first formal concert. When at home, I enjoy sewing and cooking.
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 TAFP by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (512) 329-8666.