Tricia Murdock grew up on the Tuscarora Nation, a Native American reservation 30 miles north of Buffalo, New York. She was raised mostly by her mother, a traditional Native American healer, who supported the small family by working with people from neighboring reservations. Both of Tricia's parents were part of the Iroquois Nation (her father is Mohawk from the Six Nations reserve in Ontario), and she and her siblings grew up playing lacrosse — a traditional Iroquois game.
Tricia also excelled at school, but with limited funds, she decided the income from her after-school job would be better used toward household necessities rather than the fees for the SATs. Without adequate guidance, and without realizing the fee could have been waived for underprivileged students, she started at a local community college where SATs were not required for admission. With several Advanced Placement courses from high school, she quickly earned her associate's degree, then transferred to the University of Buffalo, where she majored in biochemistry. After college, she applied and was chosen for the Post-Baccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award at the National Institutes of Health.
There is nothing like seeing a Native American student who has limited resources hold science in their hands and begin to light up with the promise of medicine.
Before completing her undergraduate degree, Tricia participated in the Four Directions Summer Research Program at Harvard Medical School, a handson program that encourages Native youth to pursue careers in medicine. While at Harvard, she conducted research on uterine fibroids and got to the chance to shadow Native American Harvard doctors. For Tricia, it was a life-changing opportunity that showed her the power of both medicine and positive mentorship.
Firmly committed to becoming a doctor and giving back to Native communities, Tricia entered the University of Washington School of Medicine after her NIH research experience. She signed on to UW's Indian Health Pathway program, where she took on elective rotations working with Seattle's Native population. She also learned about Native health remedies and healing techniques from Indigenous healers in the Pacific Northwest — remedies that echoed her mother's work and felt, at the same time, both familiar and novel. Her mother was always supportive of Tricia's decision to pursue medicine, often encouraging her to incorporate traditional thinking into her approach to patient care.
During her time at the University of Washington, Tricia also had the opportunity to travel. Because the University of Washington has the only medical school in five regional states (including Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska), rotations can be in any of those states. Tricia was thrilled about the opportunity to do three rotations in Alaska and work with Native communities there. She was sometimes flown by prop plane to remote Indigenous settlements and islands in the Bering Sea (where a gallon of water was almost $6 at the local convenience store). Often, residents in these remote places were managing chronic diseases, like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, with limited resources. During her family medicine rotation, she worked at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, a unique health care facility that offers acute and primary health care while integrating traditional services.
Since coming to Johns Hopkins in 2015 for a gynecologic pathology fellowship and then joining the faculty at Sibley Memorial Hospital in the Division of Gynecologic Pathology, Tricia has continued to do outreach with Native American and minority communities. As a member of the Johns Hopkins Pathology Diversity Initiative Committee, Tricia and other members of the Department of Pathology regularly meet with students from underrepresented minority groups to get them excited about the field of pathology.
Understanding that Indigenous youth often have few scientist role models, Tricia also designed a program in conjunction with the National Native American Youth Initiative, working through the Association of American Indian Physicians, to teach Native high school students from across the U.S. about the wonders of science, medicine and pathology.
At a recent session, students were treated to a microscope tutorial (where they learned the histology of normal lung as well as lung tumors), an animal skull station and a simulated autopsy — complete with brain, liver and kidney specimens that the students could examine. "There is nothing like seeing a Native American student who has limited resources hold science in their hands and begin to light up with the promise of medicine," she says.