September 20, 2023

Welcoming notable guests for a meaningful anniversary

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On Sunday, September 15, 1963, a bomb exploded under the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four little girls: 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, and Carole Robertson, and 11-year-old Cynthia Wesley. This act of terrorism shocked the nation and drew international attention to the struggle for civil rights taking place in Birmingham and across the South.

The tragic events of that day served as a catalyst for change, ultimately leading to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed segregation and discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing serves as a somber reminder of the sacrifices made by those who fought to end segregation, and the ongoing march toward equality and justice that continues today.

The 60th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing brought several renowned figures to Birmingham and the Heersink School of Medicine. On Monday, September 18, the Department of Surgery hosted the annual George Yang Endowed Lecture in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, featuring Patrick Jackson, M.D. Dr. Jackson is the chief of the Division of General Surgery at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., and is a professor of surgery at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

Dr. Jackson is also married to Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was nominated for the Supreme Court by President Biden in 2022. Justice Jackson, who also attended a commemoration event for the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing during her visit to the city, joined her husband at the Margaret Cameron Spain Auditorium on UAB’s campus for a Q&A session. There the pair answered questions ranging from how they became a couple to how they balance having high-profile careers and being parents to two daughters. Dr. Jackson also offered advice for residents, like striving to be part of institutions that support and elevate young faculty, and recounted the experience of getting a call while in surgery from President Biden letting him know his wife had been selected for the Supreme Court.

I had the honor of meeting Justice Jackson at the Department of Pediatrics Grand Rounds on Friday, September 15, featuring former Alabama Senator Doug Jones. Senator Jones’ lecture—“The Birmingham Church Bombing that Changed the Course of Civil Rights”—recounted his experience as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama prosecuting two of the Klansman responsible for the 16th Street Church bombing. Jones has called the experience “the most important thing I have done,” and it was both enlightening and inspiring to hear his recollections and perspective.

We are celebrating several new leadership appointments this month. Jason Daniel, MBA, has been appointed senior executive officer for Finance and Administration in the Heersink School of Medicine, effective September 1, 2023. Jason is also continuing in his role as vice president of the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C. (UAHSF).

In his role as senior executive officer for Finance and Administration, Jason will ensure organizational continuity and alignment in the areas of finance, human resources, facilities, communications, and compliance for the Heersink School of Medicine. He will participate in strategic planning and collaborate with the university, UAB Health System, and UAHSF on all administrative and financial activities. He will also collaborate with the Health System, UAHSF, and Heersink School of Medicine department administrators in school leadership recruitment and retention efforts.

I am also pleased to share that, after a national search, Brian Samuels, M.D., Ph.D., has been appointed chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, effective October 1, 2023. As chair, Dr. Samuels will work to recruit and retain talented faculty in clinical service, teaching, and research, as well as advance high impact discoveries and grow extramural research funding.

Dr. Samuels is a tenured associate professor of Ophthalmology and a respected clinician-scientist who has served as the Dennis Endowed Professor in Glaucoma Research, Director of the Glaucoma Division and the Glaucoma Fellowship, and Chief of Staff of Callahan Eye Hospital. He has also served as interim chair of the department since January 1, 2022.

Both Jason and Dr. Samuels are tremendous assets to our school and to UAB Medicine, and I am delighted to welcome them to these important leadership roles.

As was announced earlier this week, Tony Jones, M.D., will retire effective April 30, 2024, after serving as president of the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation (UAHSF), chief physician executive of UAB Medicine, and senior associate dean for Clinical Affairs in the Heersink School of Medicine.

Dr. Jones was instrumental in leading the effort to improve transparency and equity in clinical department funding, strengthen practice financial stewardship, optimize the clinical practice for our advanced practice providers, integrate the cardiovascular clinical services into the Cardiovascular Institute within UAB Medicine, and establish the guiding principles that govern our clinical faculty compensation plans, among other significant accomplishments. Importantly, Dr. Jones also led a culture shift resulting in the departments functioning more effectively as a cohesive and coordinated, interdisciplinary practice.

We will conduct a search for Dr. Jones’ replacement as president of the UAHSF and chief physician executive, and hope to have someone selected by January 1, 2024. Dr. Jones helped steer our academic medical center through a period of profound uncertainty and transformation and I am immensely grateful for his service and leadership.

I was delighted to be part of the inaugural Dean’s Excellence Awards for Staff ceremony last week. These new awards acknowledge the outstanding contributions of exceptional Heersink School of Medicine staff members across all our mission areas in medical education, patient care, and biomedical research.

The nine award winners, representing seven departments and offices and two Heersink School of Medicine campuses, have contributed significantly to our mission areas and demonstrated outstanding accomplishments beyond their job description. It takes many hands to accomplish our work, and our staff contribute significantly to our success as an institution. I am proud to have each of them as a member of our UAB Medicine community and am grateful for the dedication to excellence that they bring to their work each day.