Dr. Elisabeth Merrill and Dr. Kim Tran: William F. Ross, M.D., Scholarship Award in Family Medicine

By Remekca Owens

Dr. Elisabeth Merrill and Dr. Kim Tran’s commonalities do not end with them being dual recipients of the 2014 William F. Ross, M.D., Scholarship Award in Family Medicine. They have both made caring for others, especially those in dire need, a lifelong effort.

During their time at UT Southwestern Medical School, Dr. Merrill and Dr. Tran both have utilized their compassion and leadership skills to serve families in Dallas and in impoverished countries around the world.

The Ross Award, named after the Chair of Family and Community Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center from 1984 to 1993, includes a $1,000 scholarship from the Dallas chapter of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians Foundation.

Dr. Elisabeth Merrill and Dr. Kim Tran
Dr. Elisabeth Merrill (left) and Dr. Kim Tran

Dr. Elisabeth Merrill

Dr. Merrill’s journey to UT Southwestern has been a global one. Born in Alaska, Dr. Merrill spent her childhood in England, Colombia, and Kuwait, highlighted by annual family visits to Puerto Rico. She returned to the U.S. to earn her bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from Princeton University, but she considers her stay in Dallas to be the most challenging and rewarding.

“I loved my time here at UT Southwestern,” said Dr. Merrill. “Academically, it is very tough. But the faculty really takes care of the students. That’s what makes the difference.”

An only child, Dr. Merrill’s travels were the result of her father’s profession as an engineer in the oil production industry. Her mother retired as an immunology and microbiology researcher from UT M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

“I always knew I would end up in a science-related career because of my exposure to my parents’ professions, and I quickly discovered that I enjoy the patient interaction that comes with being a doctor,” Dr. Merrill said. Her childhood experiences gained from moving to a different country every four years also would serve as the source of her passion for global health care.

That interest was solidified after participating in UT Southwestern’s one-year International Medical Exchange Program (IMEP) after her third year of medical school. Through a partnership with the Université de Paris Descartes, the IMEP allows students to train in Paris, as well as a developing country anywhere in the world. Dr. Merrill chose the West African countries of Senegal and Burkina Faso.

“My time in Africa was amazing,” said Dr. Merrill. “I completed rotations in infectious diseases and Ob/Gyn while I was there, and I can’t wait to go back.”

This fall, Dr. Merrill will begin her residency in family medicine at Exempla Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver. She most enjoys the holistic approach of family medicine, which allows physicians the opportunity to provide a wide range of medical services to patients.

While at UT Southwestern, Dr. Merrill also volunteered in the Monday Clinic and completed the Community Action Research Track, a coordinated program of instruction, electives, ambulatory care rotations, and service-learning opportunities completed over four years.

Through these experiences, medical students contribute to improving health in the underserved communities where they train. In the future, she plans to utilize her experiences and clinical expertise in both a community-based and a global health care practice.

“Dr. Merrill’s international experiences have solidified her belief in the importance of primary care and family medicine,” said Dr. Dan Sepdham, Associate Professor of Family and Community Medicine. “She has shown remarkable resiliency and determination by stepping outside the normal comfort zone of most medical students.”

In between traveling and her studies, Dr. Merrill makes time for reading and dancing – another reflection of her global roots. “I did ballet as a kid, some flamenco and belly dancing in undergrad, grew up Latin dancing with my family, and did Scottish country dancing abroad. Now, I try to make it to contra dances with friends,” she said.

Dr. Kim Tran

Dr. Tran’s love for science, lifelong willingness to serve others, and desire to empower underserved communities to take control of their health has led her to a career in family medicine.

A native of Vietnam, Dr. Tran and her family moved to Arlington, Texas, when she was 10 years old. During high school, she spent her free time volunteering for city clean-up and gardening projects, and later in college expanded her service to serving food at area homeless shelters. However, the most impactful experience was a two-part spring break mission trip to Nicaragua she embarked upon while earning her bachelor’s degree in biology from Texas Christian University.

“I have always enjoyed volunteer work, but Nicaragua showed me that I could combine my love for medicine and science with opportunities to really change people’s lives,” Dr. Tran said. Upon returning to the U.S., she and her mission group raised funds for clean water projects, home building assistance, and school supplies for children living in the local villages.

After deciding to combine her medical knowledge with outreach, Dr. Tran ventured on several international health tours with the faith-based humanitarian organization Vietnam Village Health, as well as the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. During her trips to Vietnam, El Salvador, and Cambodia, she served on a team providing medical care in churches that had been converted into makeshift medical clinics.

She found other opportunities to serve during her time as a student by participating in UT Southwestern-based community outreach projects such as United to Serve, DFW Hepatitis B Project, as well as the Family Medicine Interest Group and the American Medical Women’s Association.

“Dr. Tran’s leadership as co-president of the Family Medicine Interest Group has been key to its success this year,” said Dr. Sepdham. “She is a tireless proponent of family medicine, and I have no doubt this enthusiasm will spill over to her patient care as a resident.”

In her spare time, she is an avid cook. “I spend countless hours watching the Food Network, and I cook a lot when I get stressed,” Dr. Tran said. “Of course, my roommate loves it when I’m stressed.”

After completing her residency in family medicine at Methodist Charlton Medical Center in Dallas, she envisions a practice that allows her to work in the U.S. and travel abroad, continually providing an outlet for her global health care passion.