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Melissa Kirkwood, M.D.

  • Associate Professor, Surgery - Vascular Surgery
  • Division Chief
  • G. Patrick Clagett Professorship in Vascular Surgery
“Always do the right thing, even when it is unpopular.”

Early Influences

Dr. Kirkwood knew she wanted to pursue a career in medicine upon entering high school – where she began volunteering in the medical field and enrolling in extracurricular activities to prepare for her future career.

“I knew I could do it and I was not going to let anyone tell me I couldn’t."

"That is the advice I would share: work hard, stay focused, pray for strength and guidance, and believe in yourself,” she said.

Dr. Kirkwood’s dedication to pursuing medicine resulted from several impactful experiences in her early years. “My best childhood friend was chronically ill and eventually received a lung transplant. I remember being so frustrated that I did not understand her illnesses. I wanted desperately to be able to help,” she said. This “fueled my desire to become a doctor.”

Later on, as a high school student, she began volunteering at the Make a Wish Foundation and at a Ronald McDonald House.

"I was so inspired by the resilience of kids with chronic illnesses. I couldn’t imagine a more satisfying job than being able to ease their suffering or improve their prognosis. These experiences solidified my desire to go into medicine.”

Contributions to STEMM

Today, Dr. Kirkwood is Chief of the Division of Vascular Surgery at UT Southwestern. She treats the full array of vascular diseases with an emphasis on peripheral vascular disease and carotid artery stenosis.

Dr. Kirkwood’s research focus is on surgeon, staff, and patient radiation exposure during complex endovascular procedures. She has published multiple journal articles and book chapters on the topic and is a known international expert and highly sought-after speaker in the field.

Overcoming Challenges

Dr. Kirkwood acknowledges the obstacles that many women in medicine face. “In residency I was told that I wouldn’t graduate from the program, and in fellowship I was told that I wouldn’t make it in academics – now I am one of the few female Vascular Surgery Division Chiefs in the country,” she said.

“From this, I have learned that determination, a true belief in yourself, a strong faith, and a fiery drive to make a positive difference in the world is more powerful than anything.”

“There were many days along the way to this point in my career that my head was hanging low, and I wasn’t sure that I was going to make it through,” Dr. Kirkwood said of her past struggles. She sees her involvement in the Celebrating Breakthroughs Together Project as “an honor, not only because it signifies that I have made a positive difference, but also because it has allowed me to become thankful for all those tough days and painful experiences that led up to this point,” she said. “It was those times that have helped shape my character and sharpen my resolve and dedication to a career in medicine.”

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