May 22, 2023

Highlighting excellence across UAB Heersink School of Medicine

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Earlier this month, I passed my first 100 days as senior vice president for Medicine and dean. It’s been a time of great energy and excitement for me as I have been meeting with stakeholders across the UAB Heersink School of Medicine and at our regional campuses, listening and sharing my vision for our school. I am proud of the work we’ve done so far and look forward to sharing our progress with you as I reach my first six months as dean in August.

The Dean’s Excellence Awards have become a signature honor here at the Heersink School of Medicine, and once again an exceptional group of faculty members have been chosen for the awards in the categories of service, teaching, research, mentorship, and diversity enhancement. Each year, faculty members are nominated by their peers and undergo a rigorous peer-review process to be selected as award recipients. I’m proud to call these faculty members colleagues and friends and hope you’ll join me in congratulating them on this recognition.

This year, we are introducing the Dean’s Excellence Awards for Staff. This initiative is important to me because the work that our talented staff members do every day is essential to our success as an academic medical center. We simply could not accomplish all we do without the skills and commitment of our staff, and the introduction of these awards is an opportunity to express our appreciation. The deadline for nominations, which must be submitted by a peer or supervisor, is June 30, and winners will be announced later this summer.

On Saturday, May 20, we welcomed 186 new physicians into our profession at the annual Commencement ceremony. It’s always very moving to be a part of this special day, and, as it was my first Commencement as dean, I was especially honored to be a part of it.

The keynote speaker, Scott Harris, M.D., MPH, an alumnus of the Heersink School of Medicine, was appointed Acting State Health Officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health in September 2017 and formally designated as Alabama’s 12th State Health Officer in February 2018.

Dr. Harris was a central figure in guiding our state’s COVID-19 policies during the pandemic, which he spoke about during his remarks. “Your experiences to this point are going to follow you throughout the rest of your career. You’re going to be the group that trained in the crucible of the pandemic, and the rest of your career is going to be spent practicing in the post-pandemic—or at least, we hope so … This is truly an amazing time and a pivotal time as you launch your careers.”

The Commencement ceremony included the announcement of Jason Daniel, MBA, vice president of Physician Practice Administration for UAB Health System and the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, as the recipient of the 2023 Will Ferniany Academic Medicine Leadership Award. The award recognizes one administrative executive each year within UAB Medicine, the UAB-Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance, or the UAB Health System, who has provided significant support to the academic mission of UAB Medicine and whose commitment to that mission has inspired others. The award is named for Dr. Will Ferniany, the longtime former CEO of UAB Health System.

Jason has held various leadership positions at UAB over the past 25-plus years, including five years as the executive administrator for the Department of Medicine. He is a tremendous asset to UAB Medicine and I’m delighted for him to receive this well-deserved honor.

In leadership news, Herbert Chen, M.D., FACS, was appointed senior associate dean for Academic Affairs, effective June 1, and continues in his role as chair of the Department of Surgery. In the newly created role, Dr. Chen will work collaboratively to establish and address the priorities for Heersink School of Medicine, including developing and communicating a strategy and vision for our future that builds upon existing strengths in research, clinical care, education, global health, and biomedical innovation.

I’m also pleased to welcome new faculty members Ananda Basu, M.D., and Rita Basu, M.D., who join UAB as professors in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism. They are also being appointed as senior scientists of the UAB Comprehensive Diabetes Center and Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute (PMI). In addition, Dr. Rita Basu will serve as a chair of the UAB Institutional Review Board and Dr. Ananda Basu will serve as the director of the UAB Diabetes Technology Programs. I know their skills and expertise will contribute significantly to our school and especially to our diabetes research enterprise.

This month is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, and our school has been celebrating with several entertaining and informative events. On May 1, the AAPI Faculty Association hosted a panel discussion with Heersink medical students on AAPI representation and advocacy. Then on May 9, the Heersink Office for Diversity and Inclusion and the AAPI Faculty Association hosted an educational heritage event featuring food, traditional dance, music, art, and a variety of speakers. The diversity of our institution is one of its greatest strengths, and this month I hope you’ll take the opportunity to learn more about these cultures and the ways they enrich not only our school but also our city, state, and nation.

May is also Women’s Health Month, which makes it all the more meaningful that the UAB-led Chronic Hypertension and Pregnancy (CHAP) trial has won the Herbert Pardes Clinical Research Excellence Award from Clinical Research Forum and was named the David Sackett Trial of the Year by the Society of Clinical Trials. The CHAP trial, led by principal investigator Alan Tita, M.D., Ph.D., Mary Heersink Endowed Chair of Global Health, director of the Mary Heersink Institute of Global Health, associate dean for Global and Women's Health, and a professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, was initially published in the New England Journal of Medicine in May 2022. The study provides, for the first time, evidence that treating mild chronic hypertension with medications is both safe and beneficial for the mother and the baby, and has led to changes in national guidelines.

I congratulate Dr. Tita and the entire CHAP trial team on this outstanding recognition. As is apparent throughout this Dean’s Message, you can find examples of excellence at every turn at the Heersink School of Medicine. As dean, I feel incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by such talented and inspiring faculty, staff, and trainees.