Vickers transition headshotAround this time last year we were eagerly anticipating the arrival at UAB Hospital of the first coronavirus vaccine doses to Alabama, and what a year it’s been since then. In many ways it felt like 2020 all over again, as we persevered through the Delta surge and persisted in educating and taking care of our community even as vaccinations in our state lagged the rest of the country. We are now tracking the news closely as the first confirmed U.S. case of the Omicron variant was identified December 1 and stand prepared to bring the same skill, experience, and compassion to tackling this new challenge as we have throughout the pandemic.

Our school received $100 million in naming gifts, in recognition of which the school is now named the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine. The gifts also established the Marnix E. Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation and the Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health, which, along with the UAB Immunology Institute that was established earlier in the year, will expand and enhance our programs in these exciting priority areas.

Forbes ranked UAB as the No. 1 Best Large Employer in the country and the No. 4 Best Employer for Diversity, honors that the university touted with a full-page ad in the November 28 edition of The New York Times. In yet another impressive recognition, U.S. News & World Report recently ranked UAB in the top 10 percent of higher-education institutions globally based on global and regional reputation alongside academic research performance.

These are just a few of the myriad examples I could point to of our school rising to meet the challenges and grasp the opportunities of the past year, and showing the world the true measure of our excellence in the process. To learn more about this incredible year, I invite you to join me for the virtual State of the School address on January 26 at noon. We will also publish our Annual Report in the coming weeks, which I will share with you in this newsletter as well.

Excellence was on full display at the Women in Medicine and Science Promotion Reception in November. This annual event, hosted by the Heersink School of Medicine Office for Diversity and Inclusion, honors the women who were promoted to professor and associate professor this year. The event returned in-person—at the Wallace Tumor Institute Lobby of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB—to spotlight 10 women promoted to full-time professor, 26 promoted to associate professor, and two who were awarded tenure. Click here to see the full list of honorees and a video shown the reception.

I’m pleased to share that Bradford Woodworth, M.D., has been chosen to serve as interim chair of the Department of Otolaryngology, effective December 1. Dr. Woodworth is the James J. Hicks Endowed Professor and vice chair of Clinical Affairs in the Department of Otolaryngology, and an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery. He graduated from Tulane University School of Medicine, and completed his residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina and fellowship training in Rhinology at the University of Pennsylvania. He serves as a senior scientist in the Gregory Fleming James Cystic Fibrosis Research Center, where he directs the UAB Rhinology Research Laboratory. Dr. Woodworth assumed the interim chair role upon the retirement of William Carroll, M.D., who stepped down as chair at the end of November after 25 years of superior service to UAB.

Brian Samuels, M.D., Ph.D., will serve as interim chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, effective January 1. Dr. Samuels is a clinician-scientist who serves as the Dennis Endowed Professor in Glaucoma Research and director of the Glaucoma Division and the Glaucoma Fellowship. He earned an M.D. and Ph.D. through the combined degree program at Indiana University in 2004. He then received a Ph.D. in medical neurobiology and completed his ophthalmology residency training at UAB, followed by both a clinical and research fellowship in glaucoma at Duke University. After serving 10 years as the Eyesight Foundation of Alabama Chair in the department, Christopher Girkin, M.D., is stepping down January 1 to focus on his ongoing research and clinical interests. I extend my deepest thanks to Drs. Carroll, Woodworth, Girkin, and Samuels for their skill, commitment, and leadership.

Finally, it was my great honor to be inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor on December 9. Established in 1965, the Academy recognizes living Alabamians from a wide variety of backgrounds and areas of achievement for their accomplishments and service to the state and the nation. The 2020 ceremony was postponed due to the pandemic, so the classes of 2020 and 2021 were inducted this year.

My fellow inductees comprise a group of exceptional Alabamians. Honorees include former U.S. Congressman Jo Bonner; Maj. Gen. J. Gary Cooper, USMC (ret.); Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson; U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin; Huntsville attorney Julian Butler; the Honorable John England Jr.; former Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson; and Grammy Award-winning recording artist Lionel Richie. Creating lasting change for Alabamians is a major driver in all that I do. It was an honor to stand together with the other inductees who have made a difference in my home state.

Here's wishing you all peace, health, and happiness this holiday season.