Debra Parsons, MD
Distinguished Achievement Award 2021
Doctor Debra Parsons’ interest in medicine was sparked by water safety courses she took as a competitive swimmer. It was further fueled by studying at a marine biology research facility. But it was during her masters in exercise physiology that she decided to go to medical school; CU was an obvious choice for this Colorado native.
The community-oriented culture at the CU School of Medicine especially drew her to her path. Because of her early training in water safety, as well as backcountry search and rescue courses, she was interested in emergency medicine and treating acute patients. Yet, the continuity of care and the relationships she developed with those whom she treated led her to internal medicine. For Dr. Parsons, it was both the appeal of observing complex medical changes in bodies over years, as well as the life stories of patients, that moved her. She developed lasting relationships with those she treated, once caring for four generations of a single family.
As a faculty member of the Saint Joseph Hospital Internal Medicine residency program for two decades, Dr. Parsons’ career gave her the best of both worlds. She blended teaching and coaching with acute-care hospital medicine and outpatient primary care. Here she learned her greatest value was in facilitating residents’ ability to integrate information, develop reasoning skills and act in the best interest of patients. She later served her fellow physicians as president of the medical staff, where she prioritized performance improvement and patient safety projects. Under her leadership, team members were an equitable force collaborating in the care of patients.
With a desire to serve her community further, Dr. Parsons got involved in statewide health policy through the Colorado Medical Society. She sought to improve the patient and doctor experience at a legislative level. Her focus was wide-ranging: fighting the opioid epidemic, maintaining and strengthening the body of law governing professional review, and improving Medicaid. Her teams prioritized physician well-being to address burnout, and invested in residents and medical students. She remains working in medical student education, now at Rocky Vista University, enjoying her career too much to do otherwise.