August 15, 2023

Celebrating outstanding achievements and welcoming our new medical students

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Earlier this month, the National Institutes of Health announced that UAB Division of Infectious Diseases Director Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., will succeed Anthony Fauci, M.D., as the next director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), starting this fall. While I am saddened to lose her as a valued leader at the Heersink School of Medicine, Dr. Marrazzo’s appointment is a clear reflection of our school’s outstanding national and international reputation.

Dr. Marrazzo joined UAB IN 2016 from the University of Washington School of Medicine. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she became a trusted expert commentator for numerous local, national, and international media outlets. She also helped guide UAB’s, Birmingham’s, and Alabama’s responses to the pandemic, offering sage counsel to leaders at all levels.

As NIAID director, Dr. Marrazzo will oversee the institute’s $6.3 billion budget, supporting research to advance the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases. The NIAID budget funds research at universities and research organizations around the U.S., including here at the Heersink School of Medicine, and across NIAID’s 21 laboratories.

We will conduct a national search to select Dr. Marrazzo’s successor in the Division of Infectious Diseases. In the meantime, I hope you will join me in thanking her for her innumerable contributions to our school, city, state, and beyond. I wish her the very best and look forward to following her career at the NIAID.

I’m excited to be involved in a bold new initiative to establish a roadmap for UAB to reach $1 billion in total research expenditures, up from $713 million in FY22. The university has engaged consulting firms Huron Consulting Group and Urban Impact Advisors to assist with developing a research growth strategic plan. In partnership with UAB research leadership, Huron and Urban Impact Advisors will review and evaluate our existing portfolio; assess the current funding landscape to identify growth areas; analyze our capacities in workforce, space, and technology; and provide priority recommendations for a strategic plan to help UAB achieve our goal.

As part of the Research Design Working Group, I participated in the project kickoff meeting with Huron on August 9, and Huron consultants met with more than 100 stakeholders across campus last week. The Research Design Working Group will continue working collaboratively with the Huron team over the next 21 weeks to define our future and develop a path forward to the $1 billion in research expenditures goal. I am excited to begin the journey toward this ambitious goal that will transform our school’s research enterprise and foster new discoveries aimed at developing new and better therapies and improving human health.

This past Sunday, I was honored to welcome our incoming first-year medical students at the White Coat Ceremony. The ceremony represents our faculty and staff members’ commitment to support our students through their medical school journeys and is a demonstration of our faith in these remarkable young people to carry on the legacy of our profession.

Associate Dean for Admissions and Enrollment Management Christina Grabowski, Ph.D., shared some interesting facts about the incoming class in her remarks. Our new students graduated from 50 different undergraduate colleges and universities and majored in more than 70 fields of study; are fluent in 27 different languages; have already logged 139,000 hours of research activity; enjoy creative pursuits like painting, poetry writing, and woodworking; stay active through weightlifting, taekwondo, roller skating, and many other activities; and have volunteered with a wide variety of organizations, from Habitat for Humanity to food banks, the Peace Corps, and groups providing health care to underserved populations.

On hand to help students don their new white coats, which are generously provided each year by the Medical Alumni Association, were Roger Smalligan, M.D., dean of the Huntsville Campus; Louis Lambiase, M.D., dean of the Montgomery Campus; and Richard Friend, M.D., regional dean of the Tuscaloosa Campus.

Catherine Ikard, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine and the 2022 faculty recipient of Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine, presented the keynote address. Several awards were also presented at the ceremony, including the 2023 Sara Crews Finley, M.D., Endowed Leadership Scholarship, which was awarded to medical student William Illiano. Anna Hurst, M.D., an associate professor in the Department of Genetics, received the Brewer-Heslin Endowed Award for Professionalism in Medicine, which recognizes faculty physicians who exemplify the highest ideals of professionalism.

Video of the ceremony is available online. It is truly a highlight of the year to witness our new students’ excitement as they begin what is sure to be one of the most transformative experiences of their lives.

Finally, I’d like to congratulate Paige Porrett, M.D., Ph.D., and the uterus transplant team on the incredible milestone achieved in May with the first patient to give birth via uterus transplant outside of a clinical trial, and the first baby born out of the UAB Comprehensive Transplant Institute and UAB Medicine uterus transplant program. UAB’s storied and renowned transplant enterprise is among the most respected in the world, and uterus transplant is an exciting new frontier in the field. I look forward to celebrating many more healthy births made possible by our uterus transplant program in the years to come.