Medical Student Merrion Dawson with Her Family at the White Coat Ceremony
Medical Student Merrion Dawson with Her Family at the White Coat Ceremony

Primary Care Scholarship Profile: Merrion Dawson

Teresa Joseph
Teresa Joseph
Medical Student Merrion Dawson with Her Family at the White Coat Ceremony
Medical Student Merrion Dawson with Her Family at the White Coat Ceremony
Childhood Dream Comes True for Second-Year Medical Student Who Commits to Primary Care

To address the alarming physician shortage in Arizona, the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix has accepted eight medical students to receive tuition reimbursement in exchange for a commitment to practice in a rural or urban underserved community in Arizona. The University of Arizona Primary Care Physician Program, developed in partnership with and funded by a portion of $8 million provided by the State of Arizona, is part of the University's commitment to increase primary care providers in underserved communities statewide, and decrease medical student debt. The program was announced in November 2019. Once the program is fully implemented, about 100 students from the Colleges of Medicine (Phoenix and Tucson) could receive the reimbursement.

The UA College of Medicine – Phoenix is profiling several of the students who have committed their careers to primary care.

Meet Merrion Dawson

Second-year medical student Merrion Dawson has always been interested in medicine. As a child, her mother had to hide Band-Aids from her because she would constantly stick them on herself, pretending to be a doctor. In high school, she took courses like sports medicine and anatomy, which fueled her interest in medicine, as well. However, it wasn’t until college that she made the decision to pursue medicine.

Merrion Dawson
Merrion Dawson
"I didn't know. I wanted to be a physician until my sophomore year of college and one of my professors helped me believe that I was capable of becoming a physician,” she said.

Dawson has spent most of her life in Gilbert. She graduated from Highland High School and earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Arizona in public health with an emphasis in environmental and occupational health and a minor in biochemistry. After college, she wanted to work in public health before applying to medical school, so she worked as a mentor for Gila River Indian Community children with behavioral problems in a program called 4 Directions.

“This was probably the hardest job I have ever had, but it taught me a lot about social determinants of health, cultural humility and how to meet people where they are to help them improve their health,” she said.

After working there for a year, she became a research assistant at Synexus and worked with patients participating in clinical trials. “This job gave me the opportunity to work with family medicine doctors and sparked my interest in family medicine,” she said.”

Why Did You Commit to Primary Care?

Merrion Dawson on a Global Health Trip
Merrion Dawson on a Global Health Trip
I committed to primary care because of the mentors I have had in family medicine. Specifically, Dr. Steven Brown and Dr. Sarah Coles have been inspiring to work with at Banner Family Medicine, and their program makes me excited and hopeful about the future. I truly feel like they see their patients as whole people and are there to help their patients meet their health care goals.

How Would You Explain to Someone Who Doesn't Know Anything About the Primary Care Shortage, Why Primary Care Physicians (PCPs) are Needed?

Primary care physicians are needed because they can solve patients’ problems 90 percent of the time. Common things are common, and primary care physicians have the tools to help patients solve these issues. Additionally, they have the skill set to humanize the health care experience for patients. Primary care physicians are the people who want to take care of patients over their entire career; they want to create long-term relationships because that is what brings them joy.

Why Did You Choose the College of Medicine – Phoenix?

I knew from the moment after my interview that the College of Medicine – Phoenix was my home. I can't explain it, but I knew that the students I met and the people who I interviewed with were a perfect fit for me. It's the culture here that makes it wonderful to be a student.

About the College

Founded in 2007, the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix inspires and trains exemplary physicians, scientists and leaders to optimize health and health care in Arizona and beyond. By cultivating collaborative research locally and globally, the college accelerates discovery in a number of critical areas — including cancer, stroke, traumatic brain injury and cardiovascular disease. Championed as a student-centric campus, the college has graduated 669 physicians, all of whom received exceptional training from nine clinical partners and more than 2,600 diverse faculty members. As the anchor to the Phoenix Bioscience Core, which is projected to have an economic impact of $3.1 billion by 2025, the college prides itself on engaging with the community, fostering education, inclusion, access and advocacy.