Dr. SreyRam Kuy selected for 2017 Early Career Achievement Award

Dr. SreyRam KuyApril 25, 2017

When SreyRam Kuy, M.D. '05, M.H.S., was two years old, rocket-propelled grenades struck the refugee camp she and her family were living in after fleeing Cambodia's "killing fields" in 1980.

Her head was lacerated by shrapnel; her left ear was nearly torn off. Her mother suffered abdominal injuries so severe that doctors did not expect her to survive. A Red Cross doctor attended to the young girl first, stitching her ear back to her head and removing shrapnel. Then they turned to her mother and saved her life, too.

Dr. Kuy was too young to remember the event, but her mother regularly told her stories about their family's survival during the Cambodian Genocide, which Dr. Kuy later compiled into a book, The Heart of a Tiger. "I would not be alive today if it were not for that surgeon who operated on me," Dr. Kuy said. "My mother would say that you have every reason to be grateful, so make sure your life serves some purpose and helps others."

After earning her medical degree from the OHSU School of Medicine in 2005, Dr. Kuy completed a general surgery residency at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center and the Medical College of Wisconsin. But it was earning a master's degree in health policy, public health and outcomes research as a Robert Wood Johnson clinical scholar at Yale University's School of Medicine that set the tone for her career,she said. 

In addition to writing The Heart of a Tiger, Dr. Kuy is widely published and, in 2016, received the Ford Family Foundation's Gerald E. Bruce Community Service Award, and, in 2017, was named a Presidential Leadership Scholar.

Today, Dr. Kuy is chief medical officer for the state of Louisiana. She oversees a Medicaid program that serves 1.6 million patients and administers health programs and medical benefits – from preventive care to surgical services – on behalf of pregnant women, children, the disabled and indigent in a $10.7 billion health system.

Louisiana chose to expand Medicaid, which led to more than 400,000 residents gaining health insurance since July 2016. Dr. Kuy developed a set of performance metrics to understand how health care access directly impacted the lives of its newest members.

Dr. SreyRam KuyThe metrics she developed found that, within seven months of Medicaid expansion, 57,000 adults received preventive care or new patient services; 5,700 women underwent breast cancer screenings; and 3,600 adults were diagnosed with, and started receiving treatment for, hypertension. Another 6,300 adults received colon cancer screenings, and polyps were removed from 1,800 of those patients.

"Those are 1,800 people who aren't going to be showing up in my operating room down the road with a colon cancer," she said. "That is a huge impact on people's lives."

Dr. Kuy also oversaw the first state-led Zika prevention strategy in the United States for pregnant women, which involved creating a robust public outreach campaign. So far, there have been no local transmissions of the Zika virus in Louisiana. Her experiences overseeing Louisiana's Medicaid program have shown her that "there is a huge population of people who are starving for health care access," she said, which motivates her to continually work to improve quality and access to health care. 

Learn about the Early Career award.

Written by Amanda Waldroupe for Bridges magazine. Photos by Hannah O'Leary, Oregon Stater magazine.