Member of the Month: Tricia Elliott, MD
Galveston family doc becomes first black woman president of TAFP
By Perdita Henry
TAFP’s newly inducted president, Tricia Elliott, MD, was born in the land of the beautiful Blue Mountains and gorgeous white sand beaches of Jamaica. At the age of 8, she moved with her family to the United States and they eventually found their way to Texas. Fast-forward a bit and she has spent almost 18 years practicing family medicine, caring for patients and teaching the next generation of family doctors.
In this month’s Member of the Month profile, Dr. Elliott describes how passion, love, and joy drive everything she puts her mind to, what her vision is for the future of the Academy, and why bringing all of herself to this new role is so important to the success of the Family Medicine Revolution.
Why did you choose to become a doctor?
My dad likes to joke that it was his idea. He bought me my first doctor’s kit and that’s what planted the seed. But I really enjoyed science — especially life sciences and biology — in school. In fact, all through high school, I volunteered as a candy striper at our local hospital with a couple of my friends. I did that for four years and it really solidified my interest in medicine.
In college, I thought I was going to be a pediatrician, but during my family medicine rotation, I realized I loved doing everything and I really enjoyed family medicine. I completed my rotation in Angleton, Texas with Dr. Sarah O’Herrin, who practiced full scope family medicine. I loved the variety, the pace, the family centered care aspect, and just spending time with patients really solidified my decision. It fit with my personality and the way I saw myself as a physician in the community. That’s why I chose it.
How did you see yourself early on interacting with the community?
When I chose a residency program I went to work in the South Bronx. The program was highly known for its emphasis on community and social medicine as well as integrating the clinical work that we did into the community. I saw it — and still see it — as looking at what’s happening in my patient’s day-to-day life, identifying key things we can work on together, doing a community needs assessments, and then developing and identifying community partners dealing with and addressing the community factors related to clinical issue.
The social determinants of health are crucial in the care of our patients, and they must be factored into all the care we provide. When I see patients that’s always in the back of my mind. I feel we family docs have this incredible gift and skill set to address other needs and consider those needs when we’re providing care. It’s not just about a prescription, it’s about considering all those other needs before we can affect the true health of our patients.
How do you champion family medicine?
I try to champion family medicine everyday by being the best family doc I can be, and individualizing the care I provide for my patients. It is important I spend time and remain in the moment with each of my patients. To me that’s most important.
I also champion family medicine by teaching students and residents, and hopefully role modeling care and family medicine to them. And of course, through TAFP and AAFP I have been granted this opportunity to be a voice of our discipline.
What is one word or phrase that captures your style when it comes to family medicine?
Passion. I am passionate about what I do. I absolutely love this and I think the people who know me know that I approach everything I do with great passion, love, and joy.
What do you believe makes someone a success?
I believe in the adage of working hard and playing hard. I believe in ensuring that you’re always considerate of others, realizing that it’s not always about you.
What I have found is if you are not considerate or mindful of others you can’t be successful personally. If you don’t have the formula of incorporating people, the spirit of what they bring to the table, and what they need to be their best, you can’t be successful. It truly is about people.
How do you define leadership?
Leadership is a couple of things: inspiring others with a vision, ensuring a model of the pathway to that vision, and empowering people to be their best. These are important factors in being an effective leader. You also must be proactive in engaging in solutions and being a part of the overall vision. I think about leadership in that way.
What interests you about family medicine?
An understanding that I am privileged to be a part of the entire dynamic of a person’s life. That understanding is truly in the biopsychosocial-spiritual model of care and it’s important to me.
It’s about the whole context of the person and the family and providing care within that context. To me it’s even more interesting than the variety of care that family docs provide, it’s not just about someone who walked in with a cold. That biopsychosocial-spiritual model of care, providing the care of a whole person, the whole family context is crucial, it’s incredibly important.
During your first speech as president of the Academy you stated “I am profoundly aware of the significance of this moment in time as I stand here — the first black woman as president of this Academy.” As a black person in a predominantly white space, I find that we are often hesitant to mention our race in order to make people more comfortable. Can you expound further about what being sworn in as the president of TAFP means to you?
The profundity of the moment is not lost on me and it means the world to me. There is a quote I came across years ago: “Lifetimes have culminated in me at this moment.” I am so grateful for the legacy that has been set before me. To be able to recognize our black physicians who have paved the way in all specialties and to say that here in Texas, we are declaring and recognizing a black woman as president of this family medicine organization; it makes me incredibly proud to be a part of this state and this organization. I recognize a sense of obligation. I do feel good about inspiring others to see what can be. As I looked around at students and residents who came up to me after my induction and realized that they saw themselves in me, it made everything even more worthwhile.
Our future is alive and this is the beginning of a whole new TAFP. I believe in the truth and the power of people to do the right thing and make a difference. I believe there is a youth movement that recognizes the power of diversity, of embracing our gender, of embracing our race, and of embracing our ethnicity. To me, acknowledging myself in terms of my background, race, and gender is important because it all contributes to who I am. It’s important not to negate any of those things because it’s all important to who I am and what I bring to this presidency.
It’s incredibly meaningful to me to be the first black woman president of TAFP and I want to ensure that I bring all of that to the table. I wanted to share how proud I am of being a black woman, it’s who I am and it’s a part of me that I look forward to others embracing. We should understand our differences because it makes us stronger. When I look around and hear people say, “She did it; I can do it,” that’s golden.
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. View past Members of the Month here.