December 01, 2021

Reflecting on the past year with gratitude

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As we enter the holiday season and embark on a new chapter, I want to reflect on my gratitude and thankfulness for our accomplishments, for the direction we are headed, and for each one of you.

2021 was marked by change, adaptability, and surprise. It has been a remarkable and unexpected year, one that often seemed paradoxical—full of both joyful and distressing moments. We learned to persist and endure as we trekked through what frequently felt like an extension of 2020.

The year began with excitement when vaccine doses rolled into the hospital and became available for health care workers. For the first few months, we found a sense of normalcy as employees and community members lined up for vaccination against COVID-19.

When our vaccination numbers plateaued, we witnessed UAB Heersink School of Medicine students, staff, trainees, and faculty alike reach out to community members and reduce barriers to vaccination—raising rates and increasing community safety.

When the Delta variant disoriented us in early summer by sweeping across our communities, our frontline workers stepped up to lead the way again, carrying our community's health on their shoulders.

When the pandemic caused uncertainty, our school hosted a series of COVID-19 informational panels to educate and inform the community, opening a conduit of access to infectious disease doctors and creating trust in medical expertise.

And, in spite of the pandemic, we have attained several major milestones this year. A few notable moments include when Forbes ranked UAB as the No. 1 Best Large Employer in the country—a recognition every school on campus can appreciate. Plus, Dr. Marnix E. Heersink, his wife Mary, and their family gave a historical and generous gift of $95 million to the school, advancing our efforts in every mission area, with a $5 million match from Trition for the $100 million gift to the school. In their honor, we became the University of Alabama at Birmingham Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine. Also, UAB’s Women and Infant Center put us on the map nationally and historically by delivering the most premature baby to survive. Curtis Means was 132 days early, a story that made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

In addition to these prevailing successes, we have met our potential and achieved excellence in each of our mission areas.

In research, we have continued to attain ground-breaking discovery and advance investigation in precision medicine, informatics, immunity, health disparities, biomedical innovation, basic sciences, and more. Our NIH portfolio continues to grow. As research efforts expand, the school opened the Office of Research this year and staffed a shared services model to help fund investigators.

In medical education, we continue to train the next generation of physicians with distinction by embracing new learning models, leveraging technology, and renovating our medical education spaces on campus. Educators have overcome ongoing barriers presented by the pandemic. Heersink leadership has continued to prepare for the renewal of the school’s accreditation in 2022. The Liasion Committee on Medical Education is the nationally recognized accrediting authority for medical education programs leading to the M.D. degree in U.S. and Canadian medical schools. Re-accreditation will showcase our high level of standards and serve as a national testament to the quality of our programs here at Heersink School of Medicine.

In patient care, our physicians have saved lives, increased innovation, and enhanced the bench to bedside approach. Our clinicians and clinician-scientists have been recognized nationally for their efforts in cardiovascular care, telehealth, advances in technology, obstetrics, rural health care, cancer care, emergency care, surgery, and much more.

There are truly so many individual moments to recognize—large and small—and I hope you all know I am thankful for each one.

My gratitude for our enterprise and the people who run it is what fuels me each day. I hope you will join me this month to reflect on the last year with amity and look ahead to the future with clarity and vision.