VickersSome good news released this month highlights the central role the university and the School of Medicine play in our city’s and state’s economy and health. As reported on Feb. 7, data released by the National Science Foundation shows that UAB as a whole had $538 million in research expenditures in 2016, and ranked No. 15 nationally among public universities and No. 31 overall in federally funded research in 2016. UAB is now sixth among Southeastern universities in federal research expenditures, behind only North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, and Emory. As a state, Alabama received $281.5 million in NIH funding in fiscal year 2016, which makes UAB responsible for more than 85 percent of the state’s NIH-funding dollars.

The Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research also reports that UAB’s NIH funding reached $238 million in fiscal year 2016, including $186 million to the School of Medicine. We expect that number will top $195 million in School of Medicine funding for 2017, as the School also exceeded 300 principal investigators for the first time in two decades. Our continuing upward trajectory is particularly noteworthy in an era of increasing competition for federal research funding.

Of course, none of these successes would be possible without the talent and dedication of our outstanding faculty and staff. Since I became dean of the School of Medicine, we have launched new award programs to honor the contributions of faculty at all career levels and to help ensure that these talented scientists, physicians, and educators are proud to call UAB home.

The Pittman Scholars program, named for the late James A. Pittman, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine from 1973 to 1992, was launched in 2015 to recognize the contributions of junior faculty who are in the early stages of their careers. Five Pittman Scholars are selected each academic year, and each receives $12,500 per year for five years to support his or her research-related activities or scholarly pursuits. The aim of the program is to nurture tomorrow’s best physicians and scientists, and to reward their efforts with resources that support their goals. The 2018 Pittman Scholars were announced in January, with research interests ranging from health disparities in surgical patients to the molecular mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease to developing new methods to treat aggressive brain tumors.

In 2015, the Dean’s Excellence Awards were revived to recognize the truly outstanding work done by our faculty in service, teaching, research, diversity enhancement, and mentorship. They are awarded each May to junior and senior faculty members who are selected through a peer-review process. Eleven faculty members were named winners of the 2017 Dean's Excellence Awards. Recently a series of videos have been posted to the School of Medicine News site of several of the winners discussing what the award means to them. They include Raegan Durant, M.D., MPH, and Nicole Jones, M.D., both Diversity Enhancement Award winners; Eric Wallace, M.D., Marianthe Grammas, M.D., and Stefan Kertesz, M.D., M.Sc., all Service Award winners; and Jennifer Gordetsky, M.D., and Hussein Abdullatif, M.D., Teaching Award winners. I encourage you to watch the videos; I hope you will be as inspired and impressed by the passion and commitment of our faculty as I am.

Finally, I'd like to draw your attention to a recent article from The New York Times Magazine that demonstrates some of the best attributes of UAB Medicine as an academic medical center. The diagnosis of a patient’s disease that had confounded physicians for years by then-Internal Medicine resident Jori May, M.D., and then-UAB Pathology resident Forest Huls, M.D., is a testament to the care, compassion, commitment, and curiosity that our outstanding residents bring to their work. Our ability to attract the best and brightest residents and clinical and research faculty is built on the continued growth of our national reputation as a top-tier AMC, which in turn allows us to make discoveries and give unrivaled care to the people of Alabama and the Deep South.

Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACS
Senior Vice President for Medicine and Dean
James C. Lee Endowed Chair

P.S. On March 10, the Medical Alumni Association is hosting an exciting CME Scientific Program focused on Precision Medicine as part of the 45th Annual Medical Alumni Weekend. The program will feature some of UAB's finest faculty who are leading the way in this emerging field. What’s more, attendees can earn up to 5.5 CME Credit Hours. Click here to register for Alumni Weekend and the CME Scientific Program online.

On October 27, we celebrated the School of Medicine’s 12th Annual Scholarship Dinner, where we brought together scholarship donors with the medical students who benefit from their philanthropic spirit. In many cases, medical school would be out of reach for these exceptional young people if not for the financial bridge that scholarships create. You can view an online photo gallery of the event by clicking here.

Several student scholarship recipients shared stories of their journeys to medical school with the assembled guests. Among them was William “Blake” Swicord, a first-year medical student from Eclectic, Alabama. Blake talked about growing up in a small town of about 800 residents, the oldest of five children, who was born when his parents were still in high school. He recalled his 13th birthday, when his father was severely injured in a motorcycle accident, and watching the physicians at the hospital care for his father. “I had one pull me aside and tell me they were doing everything they could for my dad but that right now I needed to be the big brother for all my siblings,” Blake recounted. The impression those doctors made planted the seed for a future in medicine for Blake, a future that is being made possible by scholarships.

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we achieved a number of exciting scholarship milestones this academic year:

  • More than $2.9 million awarded in scholarship funds
  • 171 students, nearly a quarter of the entire student body, received scholarships
  • More than $16 million has been raised for medical student scholarships since The Campaign for UAB began
  • 11 new scholarships have been created since last year’s Scholarship Dinner

If you’d like to learn more about giving to medical student scholarships, click here.

Celebrating an exceptional act of generosity was also on the agenda at an October 12 event hosted by Lynn and Benny LaRussa Jr. and Susan and David Silverstein and honoring a recent $2.5 million gift from Medical Properties Trust to the UAB Comprehensive Diabetes Center (UCDC). The event, called Dance the Night Away, also kicked off a public fundraising effort that LaRussa and Silverstein, who were instrumental in the creation of the UCDC, are heading to raise an additional $2.5 million. The School of Medicine has committed to match these gifts with another $2.5 million, creating an overall $7.5 million initiative to advance the cutting-edge research of the UCDC. The event itself raised over $82,000 toward the effort. It was an incredible evening of fun and philanthropy that I was honored to be a part of. You can view photos from the event by clicking here.

In other school news, I’m pleased to announce that Bruce Korf, M.D., Ph.D., the Wayne H. and Sara Crews Finley Chair in Medical Genetics, has been appointed to lead clinical implementation of precision medicine at UAB as Chief Genomics Officer for UAB Medicine. In this newly created role, Dr. Korf will work with the UAB Hospital, UAB Health System, clinical department chairs, and program and center directors to establish clinical programs in precision medicine, including defining the initial focus priorities as well as the implementation timeline.

Dr. Korf joined UAB in 2003 as chair of the Department of Genetics and since then has added other responsibilities, including director of the Howell and Elizabeth Heflin Center for Genomic Sciences; co-director of the UAB-HudsonAlpha Center for Genomic Medicine; and co-director of the Alabama Genomic Health Initiative. Dr. Korf will remain in the role of chair of the Department of Genetics until an interim chair is announced. In his new role, he will continue to serve as associate director for rare diseases in the Hugh Kaul Personalized Medicine Institute; co-director of the UAB-Hudson/Alpha Center for Genomic Medicine, and professor in the Department of Genetics.

Dr. Korf has been instrumental in establishing a strong foundation in genomic medicine at UAB, serving as a comprehensive resource for patients with rare and undiagnosed diseases and developing a robust portfolio of extramural funding across the spectrum of translational and population research. I believe his leadership will be critical to building on this foundation in order to realize our vision for precision medicine across the entire enterprise, broadening opportunities for clinicians to use personalized patient data to make the most precise diagnosis and the best recommendation for treatment for every patient.

Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACS
Senior Vice President for Medicine and Dean
James C. Lee Endowed Chair

P.S. The fall issue of UAB Medicine magazine is now available online. Read it today!

Click here to read the Dean’s Message online.