• National Conference Chair Is Eager to Lead

    April 20, 2023, David Mitchell — Tisha Van Pelt, M.D., was close to earning her undergraduate degree when she had a life-changing epiphany in an elementary school parking lot.

    “I was studying to be a teacher,” said Van Pelt, a third-year family medicine resident at the University of South Florida. “I was sitting outside of a fifth grade class. That’s as good as it gets. In fifth grade they’re really happy and love to learn. It was a small, gifted class with six to eight students. I was good friends with this wonderful teacher and her son, so I probably got special attention and treatment. But as I sat there, I was shocked to realize that I didn’t want to go in. That scared me, and I thought, ‘Why on earth, with this perfect situation, am I not excited? Do I really want to teach?’”

    Van Pelt was working as a nanny for Lydia Crane, M.D., a family physician in Melbourne, Fla., who suggested the University of Florida student would make a good doctor instead.

    “While the kiddos were napping, I would read her medical journals,” Van Pelt said. “I thought, ‘This is the most interesting thing I’ve ever read.’ From that point on, it was medicine. I never looked back.”

    Crane connected Van Pelt with physicians to shadow in multiple specialties, but Van Pelt soon knew where her career was headed.

    “Dr. Crane always came home happy, inspired and connected with her patients,” she said. “I loved her stories, and we had conversations about her satisfaction and her work-life balance. I actually went straight from teaching to family medicine. I didn’t consider any other types of medicine.”

    Van Pelt added a year to her studies to tackle premed courses before being accepted at the University of Florida College of Medicine. She will complete her residency training in June, but she already has taken on numerous leadership roles in family medicine. Van Pelt has served on the Florida AFP Board of Directors since 2019 and also has filled multiple committee roles for her chapter. She holds multiple leadership roles in the AMA, including delegate to the AMA House of Delegates and member-at-large for the Resident and Fellows section. She also serves on the Florida Medical Association’s Council on Medical Education, Science and Public Health.

    Van Pelt, who serves on the AAFP’s Commission on Education, said those leadership roles keep her going.

    “When I’m up really late at night working on things, I remind myself how blessed I am to have a platform to advocate for my patients,” she said. “That helps motivate me through those long nights. It’s definitely not always easy, but it’s so worth it.”

    Van Pelt said she learned a strong work ethic from her mother, a South Korean immigrant and single mom who worked three jobs while her daughters were growing up.

    “She was very busy,” Van Pelt said, “and that’s what she had to do to make ends meet. She never gave up on a better future, which gave us the beautiful opportunities I have appreciated in my life.”

    Van Pelt said her modest upbringing helps her connect with patients who struggle to afford medications or healthy food.

    “I take it very personally because it’s my job to help them figure it out,” she said. “In the back of my mind, I always go back to my mom and how much it would have helped her if someone had cared for her the way I care about my patients.”

    Van Pelt’s final residency leadership role will be serving as resident chair of the National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students July 27-29 in Kansas City, Mo. Registration is open now.

    Van Pelt and student chair Samantha Driscoll of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio have been involved in planning the event, and they will lead their respective congress sessions during the conference.

    “I have an absolute love for parliamentary procedure and the democratic process of writing a resolution,” said Van Pelt, who has participated in National Conference three years in a row.