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Travelle Franklin-Ford Ellis
November 9, 2023

Travelle Franklin-Ford Ellis: 2023 Early Career Award recipient

Written By: Staff



Travelle Franklin-Ford Ellis
PhDBME/MD ’13 (BSE bioengineering and psychology ’03, University of Pittsburgh)
Health equity director, Exact Sciences

Travelle is a biomedical engineer and physician scientist who is pioneering advances in equity and diversity in medical education and in the healthcare industry.

How did your experience in the College of Engineering influence your career path?

As much as my experience was, “you’re here to learn about proteins, systems, signals and complicated tissue engineering,” I learned how to build something that’s replicable, how to engage colleagues and discuss concepts, and how to communicate science to others. I believe it was those intangibles that influenced my career path the most. My first job out of Wisconsin was as a medical science liaison, where I had to communicate biomaterial science and stem cell engineering principles to peer physicians. I was the expert and they were learning from me.

Outside my graduate school training, I served as the National President of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA). As national president, you are the ‘face of the organization.’ This was before video conferences were available, so I traveled around the country giving speeches, listening to medical student experiences, building consensus with other like-minded organizations on improving health care access, advocating for medical student classrooms to be more diverse. The north star was improving the health of diverse communities and meeting their social and healthcare needs.

Give us a few highlights of your professional career.

I was one of two inaugural hires in the health equity program at Exact Sciences. Building the program from the ground up and integrating equity principles into a top medtech organization has been one of my most exciting challenges to date. I lead work that spans the patient experience before and after someone would engage a product, ensuring we are removing barriers and improving understanding and accessibility of technology to keep individuals healthy. I have received a number of recognitions for my ability to partner with others and design interventions that will meet people where they are and build capacity for the future– including the National Minority Quality Forum’s 40 under 40 award.

I have always sought to give back and use my ‘seat at the table’ to advocate others. We have much more work to do, but I celebrate the wins–big and small–from individual patient impact, to population-level reach at White House briefings.

Describe the impacts you’ve had on society as a result of your contributions.

I have the privilege of working on colorectal cancer, which is a preventable disease that is caught too late in too many individuals. My current work mission is to engineer solutions on how I can equip the people that touch the people, to not only spread awareness, but facilitate action of preventing this and potentially other diseases. Every life lost because they haven’t been screened is one too many.

I believe I impacted the ‘society’ of UW during my time as a graduate student by contributing to the culture for myself and my peers. Tangibly, I co-established the Graduate Student Association in BME and co-re-established the local SNMA chapter within the medical school. It’s exciting to see what these groups continue to achieve today, well beyond what we ‘founders’ could have done.

What do you like best?

Winter or summer in Madison?
Summer, by far. Winter lasts way too long.

Fun on The Terrace or fun on Lake Mendota?
Terrace—concerts, fun, food.

Sweet Caroline or Jump Around?
Jump Around

Flamingoes or badgers?

Orange custard chocolate chip or anything else?
Blue Moon all day. Spotted Cow and waffle fries, that was my Terrace meal.