Alumni Making a Difference

Back to Her Roots

Teena Dotson on caring for her hometown

The sign on the square in Ozona, Texas, proclaims it the “Biggest Little Town in the World.” The diminutive community (population 2,306) is also one of the biggest reasons Teena Dotson wound up at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Growing up without health insurance, Mrs. Dotson never saw a medical professional, except during vaccination drives at her local elementary school. The first time she went to the doctor was in the fourth grade, after breaking her arm roller skating.

Teena Dotson with a background of a sign for Ozona and a map of the town's location in Texas.
Illustration by Jay Caldwell/UT Southwestern Medical Center; Source images: La Esperanza Clinic and Ozona Chamber of Commerce

Almost 40 years later, Mrs. Dotson is back practicing medicine in Ozona and nearby San Angelo, Texas, where she sees doctors and other health care professionals all day long. As a Physician Assistant (PA) in her hometown, she cares for families who remind her of hers growing up. It’s a career she wouldn’t trade for the salary of a neurosurgeon.

As a child, Mrs. Dotson never thought of medicine as a career, but she was drawn to science and learning about the human body. After earning a bachelor’s in biology at Angelo State University in 1995, she worked for a few years as a medical technologist, preparing bone marrow biopsies for laboratory analysis. But the work was introspective, and she craved the opportunity to interact with patients. So, she went back to school to become a PA, graduating from the School of Health Professions at UT Southwestern in 2000.

Working in primary care at La Esperanza Clinic in San Angelo, Mrs. Dotson gives back to the surrounding Concho Valley community that raised her. Treating a growing number of uninsured adults who don’t regularly see a doctor, she sees patients at a brick-and-mortar clinic as well as a mobile clinic that crisscrosses an 80-mile radius.

While she encounters hypertension and communicable diseases on any given day, Mrs. Dotson recently reflected on her career and shared how seeing “every medical situation you could imagine” at UT Southwestern prepared her for the wilds of West Texas medicine.

What has your journey been like since UT Southwestern?

When I interviewed with UT Southwestern’s admissions office, they asked what I saw myself doing later in life. I remember telling them that I knew how bad our health care was in Ozona, and it would be a dream come true if I could use this education to go back there and serve my community.

I’m humbled to be in Ozona. I’m just a small-town girl who was fortunate enough to be able to get the education I needed to come back and offer residents resources that weren’t available to me then. I’m excited to be building a practice in a rural area that needs it, in a place where there is a shortage of primary care providers.

How has serving as a PA been rewarding?

The sense of teamwork you get from being a PA and working side-by-side with doctors, nurses, medical assistants, and medical students on cases that require total care is an inspiring feeling that I first experienced at UT Southwestern and Parkland Memorial Hospital. I saw several medical cases in the emergency room being handled as a team focused on saving lives. When you have multiple allied health people – physical therapists, prosthetists, orthotists, and medical students – coming together, the sum is greater than the parts, and it becomes a model for how you want to practice medicine.

A woman wearing scrubs and a white lab coat and seated on a stoole in a small exam room examines the leg of a man sitting on an examination table.
Teena Dotson, left, examines a man's leg in La Esperanza's mobile clinic. Provided by La Esperanza Clinic

La Esperanza’s full-service mobile unit sets up a one-day clinic at a different location every month. What started out as just a trickle of patients has grown into a flood as word gets out in the community.

When I was first given the opportunity to staff the mobile clinic, my instinct was to tell my extended family, so they could spread the word about La Esperanza’s community assistance for both insured and uninsured patients. I started “rounding up the troops,” as they say, and we went from two patients to six to eleven in a day. Seeing our reach expand brings joy and purpose to my every day.

How has UT Southwestern shaped your views on community health?

The fact that I’ve been able to bring a vast amount of knowledge from a place like UT Southwestern is something I would encourage other PAs thinking about practicing rural medicine to do. Until I attended UT Southwestern and saw all the different types of medicine there, I didn’t realize how the strong focus on scientific research supports the whole clinical enterprise.

Although I’ve focused on rural care in Ozona, I haven’t left my love of science behind. Partnering with the San Angelo Diabetes Coalition and physical therapy Associate Professor Han-Hung "Floyd" Huang, Ph.D., at Angelo State University, I’m working to develop practices that improve patient outcomes.

As part of a longitudinal study, we’ve tracked average blood sugar levels in our patients. Results of the study were remarkable, and we presented our findings to the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists in 2022. Our main finding was that interprofessional practices like ours – which have PAs, physical therapists, and community health workers all working together and providing patient education on diabetes, diet, exercise, and additional community resources – can significantly decrease A1C scores, the average amount of blood glucose in people with Type 2 diabetes.

Even though we’re not a densely populated region, we can have a national impact.

What is next for your career and your practice?

We have made some noise in Ozona and San Angelo, and our resources for residents continue to expand with the help of our mobile clinic. La Esperanza is now a Federally Qualified Health Center, and we are still growing. We have started to work with West Texas Rehabilitation Center, which has opened a satellite clinic in Ozona to provide physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. I was also recently contacted by West Texas Counseling & Guidance, and they want to promote their services in psychiatric adult, pediatric, marriage, and family counseling among our patients and potentially join forces with us. Many of our community memebers in Ozona have no idea these services are available.

We’re offering more screenings and fewer expensive laboratory tests and medications in keeping with La Esperanza’s mission to provide quality primary and preventative health care services to all people, particularly the medically underserved of San Angelo and the Concho Valley. I am proud that my ideas and my UT Southwestern education are helping people.