Kelli Tice Wells, MD

Kelli Tice Wells, MD

FMA Member Physician highlight

Leveraging Expertise
By Erika D. Peterman, FMA Managing Editor

Florida Blue Senior Medical Director of Medical Affairs Kelli Tice Wells, MD, pinpoints two pivotal moments that opened the door to a future in medicine. The first was a childhood conversation with her mother, a nurse who worked in various duty station hospitals while Dr. Wells’ father was enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Inspired by her mother’s enthusiasm for her work, which ranged from the operating room to the newborn nursery, she expressed a desire to follow the same path.

“I said, ‘I want to be a nurse just like you,’ ” Dr. Wells recalled telling her mother. “She said, ‘I want you to go a little farther than I did.’ ”

The solidifying moment arrived a few years later as Dr. Wells read an article about groundbreaking physician Alexa Canady, MD, who in 1981 became the first black female neurosurgeon in the United States. “I was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the living room and was just thrilled to see what she was doing in her field.”

Today, Dr. Wells is clinical lead for Florida Blue’s medical operations in areas including virtual health, social determinants of health, opioid overuse response, and corporate social responsibility. A family medicine physician based in Jacksonville, she brings an extensive public health background and longtime interest in health equity to her role with the Sunshine State’s largest health insurance provider. Dr. Wells spent the early part of her career with the county health department after completing residency at St. Vincent’s Family Medicine Center in Jacksonville.

“I very quickly became focused on the relationship between the information we impart as clinicians and how it’s applied once the patient leaves our office,” said Dr. Wells, who joined Florida Blue in 2018. “That really led me to look into work related to culturally competent care, health disparities, health literacy, and health education. I found a way to incorporate that into all of my clinical work since the time I got out of residency.”

Dr. Wells also took on increasing leadership responsibilities, serving as clinic Medical Director, Clinical Services Director, and County Health Officer for the Florida Department of Health. She has drawn upon those experiences to help meet the needs of Florida Blue’s beneficiaries during an ongoing global public health crisis. As Dr. Wells was orienting new team members about what to expect from local health departments in response to Florida’s 2019 hepatitis A outbreak, the CDC reported the first case of COVID-19 in the United States.

“I was able to leverage that public health expertise and apply it to our membership, which spans the state and involves a large breadth of work as well as significant depth of work,” she said. “What is happening on the ground with our members, how are they gaining access to the things that they need? … Where are the disparate impacts and what do we do about those? It’s been quite interesting. I’m excited that we’ll have the opportunity on the other side of the pandemic to leverage all the learnings that we’ve gained through this work.”

In an interview with the FMA in February, Dr. Wells noted that the physician-patient relationship can be a powerful force for raising confidence in COVID-19 vaccines and influencing decision-making on an individual level.

“One thing I tend to (share), which really has more impact on people than anything else, is that my parents, who are both 81, have received both doses of the Moderna vaccine,” she said. “I can’t say anything higher than that in terms of my comfort level with the vaccines we currently have.”

Dr. Wells earned her medical degree from the University of Florida College of Medicine, and she is a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Florida Academy of Family Physicians. She also serves on the Deans Council at the University of North Florida’s Brooks College of Health.