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Dell Med Doctor Advances Health & Inclusion in Her Hometown

Dec. 9, 2020

This news feature is part of Dell Med's Voices, a series of profiles that highlight the people of Dell Med as they work to improve health with a unique focus on our community.

Kristin Escamilla on Dell Med's campus.

Kristin Escamilla, M.D.

Kristin Escamilla, M.D., has made the Austin community her family — and improving their health her life’s work. She went to Austin Independent School District schools and volunteered at Austin hospitals, and after going to medical school at UT Southwestern in Dallas, she returned to Austin for a Dell Medical School psychiatry residency.

Now a clerkship director and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Escamilla is using her familiarity with the city and her personal experiences to connect with medical students, patients and local educators alike — all part of her mission to give everybody the opportunities they deserve, starting locally.

Austin Roots, Austin Impact

In just seven years as a licensed physician, Escamilla has broadened the reach of her work from the clinic to teaching to education outreach. As part of an effort to increase interest in health professions, she is working with a team to develop and implement Health Science Teacher Workshops. These daylong events bring K-12 health science teachers from Del Valle, Manor, Pflugerville and Austin independent school districts to Dell Med to participate in activities, learn from panelists and get resources to bring back to their students.

“Dr. Escamilla has really been out in the forefront putting together something brand new,” says Kathryn Kalinowski, an academic program coordinator in the Health Ecosystem. “It took a lot of listening and researching on her part to figure out how to hit an important missing piece for teachers and students.”

But Escamilla’s research for the K-12 education initiatives began well before she became a doctor. An Austin native, she went to LBJ High School, where she learned the impact of supportive teachers and extracurricular programs firsthand. From leadership development camps to the National Hispanic Institute, the programs Escamilla participated in helped her on her path to psychiatry.

“Without those programs, without people who actually cared, I would never have been able to be where I am at this point,” Escamilla says.

Building Community In & Out of the Clinic

Escamilla’s commitment to helping others by building on her own experiences extends beyond the educational pipeline. Her perspective as a member of a group underrepresented in medicine also informs her work as co-chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council for Dell Med’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences — meaning she works with professionals across the department to advance diversity in their own work. And looking ahead, she wants to extend her reach even further.

“I'm aware of what the status quo is and has been, and how we need to work hard to continue to improve it,” Escamilla says. “It’s really about giving everybody the ability to rise to their fullest potential because we have so much talent everywhere. I'm a firm believer, too, that having different minds working together leads to the best result. So we have to do that work.”

The same values of understanding and supporting motivate Escamilla’s work providing psychiatric care as a clinician. She helps people through what may be “the darkest time of their lives” at the Judge Guy Herman Center for Mental Health Crisis Care, a crisis respite center and extended observation unit for people in psychiatric crisis operated by Integral Care.

Being familiar with the geography and resources in Austin helps her relate to her patients. More than that, though, she thinks life has a way of bringing us where we are meant to be. Walking the halls of the Austin State Hospital, where she was a moonlighter during her fellowship –– and where her grandparents retired from careers in environmental services –– she knew she was in the right place.

“I love the people of Austin, and I’m passionate about keeping them healthy because it's so near and dear to my heart,” Escamilla says. “It's just a natural setting for me to be with my community. I've never really entertained the idea of living or working outside of Austin. I can't imagine living anywhere else.”