Dr. Zoe Shapleigh Tullius: Kurt Ian Wey, M.D., Pediatrics Award

By Debbie Bolles

Dr. Zoe Shapleigh Tullius might have landed in the jungles of South America doing ecological fieldwork had it not been for experiences in high school and college shadowing doctors in her hometown of El Paso.

Dr. Zoe Shapleigh Tullius
Dr. Zoe Shapleigh Tullius

“One doctor cared so much about the well-being of his patients and tried to treat them as much as he could, even if they couldn’t afford it. It was a wonderful example of compassion,” said Dr. Tullius, winner of the 2012 Kurt Ian Wey, M.D., Pediatrics Award.

So Dr. Tullius shifted her focus from ecology to pediatric medicine. After earning an undergraduate degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton University, she came to medical school at UT Southwestern. She said pediatrics suits her personality.

“I’m really a sucker for cuteness. I also like dealing with patients who can’t help themselves, and working with families to help their children. Adults can advocate for their own health, but kids really can’t,” she said.

Dr. Soumya Adhikari, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, said Dr. Tullius’ passion for childhood health and academic excellence led to her selection for the award, named in honor of a 1998 UT Southwestern graduate who died in an automobile accident. The annual award, established by Dr. Wey’s family and friends, recognizes a fourth-year medical student who shows empathy and compassion for sick children, has significant knowledge, and maintains a good sense of humor.

“Zoe embodies all the qualities one would want in a future pediatrician: a love for all children, a zest for lifelong learning, and a high level of inquisitiveness that will allow her to be a leader in her chosen field in the near future,” Dr. Adhikari said.

Dr. Tullius’ lawyer parents both supported her decision to pursue medicine. “They’re very proud and just happy I found something I love doing,” explained Dr. Tullius.

Her maternal grandmother, holder of a doctorate in molecular biology, also influenced Dr. Tullius’ decision, though she failed at steering her into geriatrics. “She says that because she wants me to treat her. She says, ‘You could be my doctor,’ ” Dr. Tullius said, noting her grandmother’s sense of humor.

Next up for Dr. Tullius is a pediatrics residency at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Her husband, a third-year medical student in El Paso whom she recently married, hopes to join her by seeking his own residency in Chicago after he graduates.

An avid volleyball and soccer player, Dr. Tullius eventually would like to work in an academic medical setting. She finds staying on top of the newest medical research challenging, but says it equips her to handle patients better.

“I try to stay as current as I can. When I don’t know something, I try to look it up or ask somebody,” Dr. Tullius said. “I’m extremely hard-working and patient and a good listener, which helps when you really need to listen to what a parent or child is saying to help make a diagnosis or treat them.”