October 1, 2020—Of the 3,500 eligible family medicine residents from across the country, only 12 are recognized with the annual AAFP Award for Excellence in Graduate Medical Education. This year, two of the 12 individuals selected to receive this esteemed distinction—Ali Nasrallah, MD and Julie Thai, MD, MPH—are resident members of Michigan Academy of Family Physicians. Each will receive a $1,000 scholarship, supported by a grant from NOVO Nordisk, and a complimentary registration to the 2020 AAFP virtual Family Medicine Experience taking place Oct. 13-19.
Ali Nasrallah, MD
“The AAFP Award for Excellence in GME is one of the greatest honors of my career,” said Dr. Nasrallah, chief resident at Beaumont Health-Wayne Family Medicine Residency. “It is humbling, but also inspiring, to be considered for such a prestigious award. I owe it to my family, friends, and all my mentors for helping me get to where I am today. I hope to continue earning this honor daily, but I will never forget that the greatest honor is being a family medicine physician.”
With a passion for medicine intertwined with a desire to work within communities and give back to those around him, Dr. Nasrallah said his training at the Beaumont-Wayne program has prepared him well to practice in an underserved community. He most appreciates the opportunities it has provided for strengthening his ability to recognize and address social determinants of health—the aspect of medicine that he finds to be one of the most rewarding.
Equally rewarding, he said, is the adaptability that is intrinsic to family medicine. That adaptability was put to the test when the COVID-19 crisis hit Michigan. Dr. Nasrallah was among the family medicine physicians who were first to respond at the community hospital, volunteering for a COVID-19 team because he felt he had a duty to serve his community. He also, on his own, secured personal protective equipment from Ford Motor Company for Beaumont Hospital-Wayne doctors, nurses, and staff, and organized the distribution of their personal care packages.
Dr. Nasrallah was also instrumental in establishing the Community Service and Outreach Committee, aimed at improving the residency program’s relationship with patients and the Wayne community.
“I have seen many residents over 25 years jump into areas and help people that they have a singular passion for, but I have never seen a resident physician motivate an entire faculty and resident body to move in so many different areas at one time,” said Scott Yaekle, MD, associate director at Beaumont Health-Wayne Family Medicine Residency, of Dr. Nasrallah’s committee implementation. “Dr. Nasrallah is committed to serving his local community and becoming the family doctor who will improve the overall mental, physical, and social health of his community.”
Dr. Nasrallah plans to focus on general medicine, preventive medicine, acute care, sports medicine, and addiction medicine. He also aspires to pursue a master’s in public health, to strengthen his foundation to serve those around him and have a greater impact on communities.
Julie Thai, MD, MPH
Equally passionate about exemplary patient care and service to others is Dr. Julie Thai. As academic chief resident at McLaren Flint Family Medicine Residency, Dr. Thai is described by her program director, Prabhat Pokhrel, MD, PhD, MS, FAAFP, as exceptional and one who has led a life of public service.
“Dr. Thai represents all of what family medicine and AAFP stands for. She is a talented clinician trainee and devoted leader who is also a kind, humble, and exemplary human being who finds honor and derives immeasurable joy in serving those whose lives she positively impacts just by virtue of doing what she loves,” said Dr. Pokhrel.
What she loves is improving care for vulnerable populations, whether it be through volunteering at nursing homes, free clinics, and women’s shelters, or serving as an AmeriCorps Volunteer to negotiate medical discounts on behalf of the uninsured, and now as a family physician.
Her dedication to caring for others and a strong work ethic, she said, were ignited by watching her single mother work multiple jobs to send money home to her ailing parents in Vietnam.
Initially drawn to public health and research—she earned a master’s in public health from Columbia University—Dr. Thai soon discovered her desire to become a physician who addresses social determinants of health while tackling a variety of acute and chronic medical problems.
“Family medicine has allowed me to integrate my public health, patient care, and clinical research skills into caring for vulnerable and underserved populations,” she said.
The specialty has also called her to get involved in advocacy. Believing that advocacy is an inherent part of being a family physician and recognizing that healthcare is unequivocally linked to health policy, Dr. Thai is committed to training residents to become better advocates for their patients and their profession.
Through her participation in MAFP’s 2018 Advocacy & Leadership Development Program, she co-authored an advocacy and health policy curriculum that is now being incorporated into McLaren Flint Family Medicine Residency’s required Health System Sciences rotation. It also serves as a guide that can be replicated and modified by other residency programs to empower family medicine residents to advocate on behalf of the patients they serve, in both a clinical and social context.
As she looks to the future, Dr. Thai plans to pursue a fellowship in clinical geriatrics at a university-based medical center with the intent of becoming geriatric faculty in an urban underserved community. She also plans to continue her advocacy work in medicine.
“I will continue making a difference in family medicine by fighting for this profession and everything that it represents,” she said. “I am deeply honored to receive the AAFP award for Excellence in GME and grateful to AAFP for recognizing my work as a resident. I feel very fortunate to have amazing people in my corner encouraging and inspiring me every day as I continue to develop as a clinician-advocate.”