Dr. Merritt earned a bachelor's degree cum laude in English literature from Hunter College in 1944. In 1952, she earned her M.D. degree from George Washington University following active duty in the U.S. Navy. She joined Indiana University's faculty in 1961 as a professor in pediatrics after spending the previous four years at the National Institutes of Health in the Division of Research Grants. She was the first dean of IUPUI's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. Among her numerous range of positions, she served as the first woman acting Dean of the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI for the 1995-96 academic year.
In 1978, she accepted a special assignment with the National Institutes of Health and during her 10-year tenure she served as special assistant to the Director of NIH for research training and research resources, as well as the first acting director of NIH's National Center for Nursing Research in 1986. Upon her return to IUPUI in 1988, she was named associate dean of the IU School of Medicine.
Dr. Merritt has been a member of the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine, a consultant to the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, and served on the science and society committee of Sigma Xi. She has acted as a consultant, board member or director of numerous health and education entities in Indiana, including the Consortium on Urban Education, the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, the Community Service Council of Greater Indianapolis and the Women's Fund of Central Indiana, the Kinsey Institute.
She was the first recipient of the Doris H. Merritt Award created in 1994 by the IU School of Nursing to honor service to nursing. In 1997, the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology, Indianapolis and the School of Medicine's Center for Women's Health, established a leadership award to be offered annually in her name, The Annual Doris H. Merritt Lectureship. Among her many other honors and awards are the School of Nursing's Distinguished Non-Alumnus Award, the NIH Director's Award, the governor of Indiana's Sagamore of the Wabash citation and the honorary Doctor of Science from Purdue University and Indiana University.