With two Ph.D.’s and an M.D. between them, Drs. Dave (’98) and Amy (Berry ’95) Fuller are known by at least one friend as the “pair o’docs.”
But if they see anything truly paradoxical about their lives, it’s the recognition they’re now receiving for their work in Houston – hers as a founder of a nonprofit marriage and family therapy training institute and his as a physician-scientist specializing in head and neck cancer.
“We were in training mode for more than a decade,” Dave said. “I’ve only officially had a job for three-and-a-half years, so it feels like we're just getting started.”
Nevertheless, the couple has made good use of that time in fields that help patients in times of great crisis. Amy started Fuller Life Family Therapy Institute in 2012, focused on filling a pair of unmet needs: a lack of access to high-quality therapy for low-income residents of Houston, and a lack of clinics willing to let new graduates earn the practice hours needed to earn their professional license.
Meanwhile, Dave has published more than 90 peer-reviewed papers, focusing especially on fighting head and neck cancers through better imaging and radiation treatments.
They came to these roles by majoring in theatre and psychology, respectively, a far cry from where they now find themselves.
“We certainly didn’t plan for any of it,” Amy said. “Through it all, we’ve been blessed.”
After growing up in West Texas, Amy graduated a semester early with her theatre degree, citing Adam and Donna Hester as significant mentors. Despite her love for the stage, she took the next semester to earn a post-graduate teaching certificate and felt called to accept a summer children’s ministry internship in Fort Worth. The congregation asked her to stay full-time for the next year, but she soon discovered she wasn’t adequately trained for the unique challenges of ministry.
“All of these parents would come to me with marriage and family issues related to their kids,” she said. “I really felt ill-equipped to handle them.”
So she went back to ACU, earning a graduate degree in marriage and family therapy – and coincidentally moving closer to Dave, a sophomore whom she had begun dating long-distance.
Dave came to ACU majoring in psychology and walked on to the football team to play right tackle for two years.
At the suggestion of a friend, Dave switched his focus to pre-med coursework.
“I really lacked the patience with patients that counseling psychology requires, and medicine seemed more concrete in terms of outcomes,” he said. “Nonetheless, I am exceptionally grateful for the wonderful training professors like Bob McKelvain, Ina Green, Scott Perkins and Ray Whiteside gave me, which are the root of much of my scientific development.”
Although the two had been students at the same time, and even taken the same astronomy class when she was a senior and he a freshman, they hadn’t met until they were introduced at a wedding. Their own wedding took place two years later, in 1997, and the couple graduated with their respective degrees the next year.
Over the next 12 years, Dave earned his medical degree from The University of Texas Health Science Center, Amy her Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy from St. Mary's University, the couple had two children, and Amy earned her clinical license and built a private practice with help from Dave's parents, Clifton ('71) and Jeanne (Kite '72) Fuller.
In 2011, Dave finished a combined Ph.D.-residency program in radiation physics and was recruited for a tenure-track faculty position at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where he is now assistant professor of radiation oncology.
The next year, Amy co-founded Fuller Life Family Therapy Institute with Jennifer (Hoffmaster '94) Christian.
“The pieces came together in ways that just couldn’t be coincidental,” she said. “It’s really allowed me to have the opportunity to see if I can give back to the field and give younger professionals what I didn’t have.”
In each of their fields, Dave and Amy Fuller said they achieve great satisfaction from the healing their work can bring.
“Working with people in their deep personal fear and pain and trauma, and helping them heal, there are so many different components of that that are so gratifying – and equally challenging – because we’re dealing with real darkness that people carry,” Amy said. “It’s such a rewarding experience to sit with a person in their darkest hour. For them to open up and share with me is such an honor and such a privilege.”
For Dave, who jokingly described his prolific paper-writing as a hobby, both sides of his job have the same goal: to fight cancer through better imaging and radiation treatments. That has included mentoring nearly a dozen ACU students who have interned at his lab during the summers, often outperforming other interns from Ivy League universities.
“At the end of the day, our goal is to cure cancer,” he said. “When you wake up in the morning, it’s very purposeful. It’s really easy to get motivated. … I’m on the New York Yankees of head-neck cancer, and they’re totally awesome.”