May 17, 2017

Eleven faculty members named winners of the 2017 Dean's Excellence Awards

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Eleven outstanding faculty members were named recipients of the 2017 Dean’s Excellence Awards, an honor recognizing exceptional contributions made by School of Medicine faculty in service, teaching, research, diversity enhancement and mentorship. 

"It is my great pleasure to announce the winners of the 2017 Dean's Excellence Awards," said Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACS, senior vice president for Medicine and Dean of the UAB School of Medicine. "These awards recognize the truly outstanding work done by our faculty across these key areas. Each of the faculty members honored this year have much to be proud of in their careers here at UAB, and I greatly appreciate their commitment to our institution."

The 2017 winners are:

Diversity Enhancement
Raegan Durant, M.D., MPH
Nicole Jones, M.D.

Ken Saag, M.D., MSc
Deniz Peker, M.D.

Casey Weaver, M.D.
Surya Bhatt, M.D.

Stefan Kertesz, M.D., MSc
Marianthe Grammas, M.D.
Eric Wallace, M.D.

Hussein Abdullatif, M.D.
Jennifer Gordetsky, M.D.

Durant RaeganRaegan Durant, M.D., MPHRaegan Durant, M.D., MPH

Raegan Durant, M.D., MPH, associate professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Preventive Medicine, is the senior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Diversity Enhancement.

“Dr. Durant has exhibited an unfailing adherence to the idea that diversity enhancement efforts should include the equitable allocation of our academic resources to all groups.  With that in mind, he has channeled his energies in a multi-faceted manner to increase access of minority groups to both the research and clinical spheres in academia,” said Mona Fouad, M.D., MPH, director of the Division of Preventive Medicine.

Since joining the faculty in 2006, he has led numerous research projects at UAB to examine factors that contribute to minority underrepresentation in clinical research, focusing on developing programmatic interventions aimed at helping both potential minority study participants as well as health care and research personnel engaging in study recruitment.  He is the principal investigator on a five-site consortium study to explore the use of patient navigation to increase minority participation in cancer clinical trials, and is building on the that work to examine minority participation in oncology personalized medicine studies to ensure that this burgeoning area of scientific discovery yields benefits that are applicable to all groups.  

Durant is also medical director at Cooper Green Mercy Health Services, a role that charges him with ensuring access of this population to high-quality health care both at Cooper Green and its local institutional partners such as UAB.

 “His dedication to this effort reflects his strong desire to ensure that diversity is reflected not only among the professional workforce, but also among the patients receiving health care,” Fouad said.

He has also demonstrated the value of diversity in teaching and mentorship, serving as a clinical research mentor for minority students and trainees, as well as for multiple students in undergraduate research programs. As part of the Disparities Curriculum Planning Committee, Durant worked with colleagues to create the didactic curriculum for the Health Disparities Track for the UAB Tinsley Harrison Internal Medicine Residency Program, and gives a bi-monthly lecture to interns on the impact of environmental factors contributing to health disparities.

Nicole Jones, M.D.

jonesnicoleNicole Jones, M.D.Nicole Jones, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics’ Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, is the junior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Diversity Enhancement.

Since joining faculty five years ago, Jones has shown her passion for working to improve cultural sensitivity, diversity and inclusion in the department and in the Pediatric Residency Program.  She’s served as a faculty advisor for the residency program’s Council on Diversity since 2013, providing guidance, advocacy and mentorship to residents. She’s also been working for greater diversity in the residency program by serving on the recruitment committee and hosting applicants for the UAB URM Diversity Weekend.

Jones has also been a guest speaker at the UAB Minority Association of Pre-Med Students and participates as a speaker and simulation facilitator with the School of Medicine’s Pre­matriculation in Medical Education (PRIME) and Summer Health Enrichment Program (SHEP) initiatives, which offer medical shadowing and development experiences to undergraduate students from underserved or underrepresented backgrounds.

“I have had the privilege of getting to know Dr. Jones both as a colleague in Pediatric Emergency Medicine and as a friend. She is a wonderful role model for our Pediatric residents,” said Michele Nichols, M.D., professor in the Department of Pediatrics who nominated Jones for the honor. “She is an excellent clinician, a wonderful teacher, and a strong representative of what women can be.”

Ken Saag, M.D., MSc

RS8594 kenneth saag 2009 2 scrKen Saag, M.D., MScKen Saag, M.D., MSc., Jane Knight Low professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, is the senior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Mentorship.

“Saag has had a distinguished career in academic medicine, and has had a substantive positive influence on the careers of many trainees through his lectures, clinical teaching in the inpatient and outpatient setting, and mentoring in clinical and translational investigation,” said S. Louis Bridges, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., Anna Lois Water Professor and Director of the Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology. “Dr. Saag’s mentorship in investigation has fostered the growth and career development of specialists in adult and pediatric rheumatology, internal medicine, epidemiology, biostatistics, nursing and nutrition sciences.”

Bridges said that of his more than 280 original articles, the vast majority of Saag’s work involves trainees as co-authors, as do most of his reviews and editorials. Saag has garnered nearly $20 million for UAB in total costs as principal investigator of extramural grants focused on research training in health services, outcomes and effectiveness, and patient-centered outcomes. This includes T32, K12, KL2, and TL1 training grants from Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and NIH and an NIH K24 Mid-Career Investigator Award, which is awarded to outstanding, well-funded, and accomplished research mentors.

Saag serves as Director of the UAB Center for Outcomes and Effectiveness and Research Education, is a past Chair of the UAB Council of Center Directors, and Director of the AHRQ-funded Center for Education & Research on Therapeutics of Musculoskeletal Disorders and the NIH P50 Center of Research Translation in Gout and Hyperuricemia, which have served as vehicles to allow Saag to mentor, direct and advise many trainees and junior faculty investigators. 

Among his more than 50 former trainees are Jeffrey Curtis, M.D., MS, MPH, and Jasvinder Singh, M.D., both of whom are endowed professors in the Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology at UAB and recipients of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) Henry Kunkel Young Investigator Award, and Ted Mikuls, M.D., professor of Rheumatology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Deniz Peker, M.D.

Deniz PekerDeniz PeDeniz Peker, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pathology, is the junior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Mentorship.

Peker joined the Department of Pathology in 2012 after completing her fellowship in hematology at the University of South Florida. Since joining UAB, Peker has served as clinical co-director for the Hematology-Oncology module. Peker, who has been actively involved in undergraduate medical education, was nominated for Argus Awards in Best MS-2 Organ Module co-director in 2014 and 2015.

She has mentored the SOM Pathology Interest Group since January 2014. As the mentor, she has each year organized general clinical activities related to pathology and specifically to hematology.

Peker also leads training of residents as associate director of the Pathology residency program, a position she’s held since 2014. Under Peker's mentorship, residents have given more than 15 presentations at national and international conferences. She was awarded for Excellence in Laboratory Medicine Education by the residents for the academic year 2012-2013.

Peker has additionally assisted several other junior faculty members in the developments of their careers, currently mentoring five junior faculty.

“In short, with her work ethic, leadership and interpersonal skills, Dr. Peker has been a tremendous asset to the UAB School of Medicine,” said George J. Netto, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Pathology. “Dr. Peker is an excellent physician and outstanding role model for her juniors; she has demonstrated exemplary strengths in leadership and mentoring in her relatively short tenure at UAB.”

Casey Weaver, M.D.

RS13645 Casey Weaver 8 scrCasey Weaver, M.D.Casey Weaver, M.D., professor in the Department of Pathology, is the senior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Research.

Weaver, who joined the Department of Pathology at UAB in 1992, is recognized as an international leader in the field of immunoregulation; he has published numerous seminal works that continuously move the field forward.

“Dr. Weaver is a premier physician-scientist, whose research into the developmental decisions of CD4 T lymphocytes has led to new insights into the pathogenesis of autoimmunity, and new therapies for treating autoimmune diseases and cancer,” said George J. Netto, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Pathology. “His broad understanding of the role of T cell immunity in inflammatory responses associated with disease prevention and pathogenesis, as well as his established contributions to the development of new therapeutic interventions, have and will result in new approaches to infectious, autoimmune and other chronic inflammatory diseases.”

Weaver's pioneering discoveries in immunoregulation have revolutionized the understanding of autoimmunity, directly leading to emerging novel therapies for treatment of immune-mediated diseases, the earliest of which are now FDA-approved for the treatment of psoriasis. He has also pioneered methods for tracking the fate of CD4 T cells and defining the genetic elements that control key immune regulatory cytokine genes. Dr. Weaver was among the first to appreciate the role of the microbiome and retinoids in T cell biology, an emerging area that will lead to innovative discoveries.

“Dr. Weaver has exemplified great accomplishment as an outstanding physician-scientist, and I’m delight to nominate him for this honor,” Netto said.

Surya Bhatt, M.D.

RS15703 surya bhatt scrSurya Bhatt, M.D.Surya Bhatt, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine, is the junior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Research.

Bhatt joined UAB in July 2012, and during his short tenure, has had a truly extraordinary period of productivity and contributions to our academic community, said Victor Thannickal, M.D., director of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine.

He has demonstrated an exceptional track record, publishing 82 papers, including 45 manuscripts as first-or senior author, with multiple high quality publications in high-impact journals such as JAMA, Lancet Respiratory Medicine, Thorax, The American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine, and the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.  He has made several novel scientific observations including describing a congestive phenotype of COPD exacerbation, identifying arrhythmias as possible triggers for acute exacerbations of COPD, developing a novel imaging metric for emphysema, and describing a phenotype of COPD characterized by paradoxical response to bronchodilators, according to Thannickal.

Bhatt has initiated an Remote Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, a novel exercise program that uses smart technology and delivers pulmonary rehabilitation to COPD patients at their homes to prevent hospital readmission—the first successful application of smart technology to this problem. He’s also established the UAB Lung Imaging Core for translational research, leading to state-of-the-art lung image processing capabilities at UAB.

Bhatt was recognized as one of the 2017 Pittman Scholars, awarded the Early Career Achievement Award by the American Thoracic Society Assembly on Clinical Problems and appointed to the editorial boards of the American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine and the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, where he was named a Top Reviewer for 2016. 

“Dr. Bhatt truly exemplifies the innovation, drive, and collaborative spirit that we value in our junior faculty,” Thannickal said.  “He is poised to make major contributions to the UAB scientific community, and to the advancement of science and medicine at large.”

Stefan Kertesz, M.D., MSc

RS16861 Stefan Kertesz 4 scrStefan Kertesz, M.D., MScStefan Kertesz, M.D., MSc, associate professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Preventive Medicine, is the senior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Service.

In Birmingham, Kertesz began homeless health care in 2003, including shelter work where he saw people often had problems accessing care. He published two community surveys to document the severity of the problem. Based on this, he developed one of the Veterans Administration’s first homeless-tailored primary care clinics, the Phoenix Clinic. He also developed the first patient experience questionnaire for care of the homeless, now used in clinics across the country, translated into Spanish and Chinese, and accepted by AHRQ’s National Quality Metrics Clearinghouse.

At the same time, Kertesz has focused on advancing the social policy response to homelessness, in his research and in the community. In 2004, he joined the Board of OneRoof, the key HUD-funded Continuum of Care organization that assures integration of services, flow of funds, and advocacy for homeless individuals in Birmingham, ultimately serving as Chair. He has engaged with multiple regional initiatives and offers national expertise through service on the Research Council of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which helps inform national policy.

Kertesz has worked tirelessly to enhance public education and advocacy on addiction treatment and opioids. He briefed the U.S. Surgeon General on these issues in January 2017, and presented to the 2017 Summit of the Alabama Healthcare Improvement Task Force.

Kertesz has also served on the national board of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship since 2005, and led a two-year effort to establish Alabama’s Fellowship chapter, which named its first class of fellows in 2016 and second in 2017. 

“His clinical work, research and service activities all reflect a compelling lifelong commitment to advancing health and social policy for homeless persons, and to inspiring young professionals to dedicate their lives similarly,” said Mona Fouad, M.D., MPH, director of the Division of Preventive Medicine.

Marianthe Grammas, M.D.

RS7891 marianthe grammas scrMarianthe Grammas, M.D.Marianthe Grammas, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care, is a junior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Service.

Grammas, who joined UAB in 2013, is medical director of the UAB House Calls Program, medical director of the UAB Geriatric Medicine Clinic at UAB Highlands Hospital and physician advisor for care transitions in the UAB Health System. Katrina Booth, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care, said that under Grammas’ leadership, the UAB House Calls Program, which provides services for older, homebound adults, has expanded to high-touch, in-home care for vulnerable adults who often have high burden of diseases, functional impairments, and limited economic or social resources—all factors that contribute to high utilization of emergency and inpatient services. 

For these patients, the UAB House Calls Program provides personalized intensive medical care, care coordination, and education that improves health and maintains patients in the ambulatory setting.  After a few visits, many patients in the program are able to transition into routine care with their primary care provider.  Booth said 78 patients enrolled the first seven months of the UAB House Calls transitional care program, leading to a reduction in ED visits by 52 percent, admissions by 96 percent, total hospital days by 83 percent and readmissions within 30 days by 97 percent. 

“This patient-centered service not only improves health and quality of life for patients and their caregivers, but also reduces the cost of care for the health system,” Booth said. “Under Dr. Grammas’ leadership, the UAB House Calls Program has become an exemplar of service to patients that also supports the UAB Medicine pillars of engagement, quality and finance.”

Eric Wallace, M.D.

RS15580 eric wallace scrEric Wallace, M.D.Eric Wallace, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Nephrology, is a junior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Service.

“Eric has tirelessly advocated and advanced telemedicine as a major innovation in health care for UAB and for patients across the state,” said Seth Landefeld, M.D., chair of the Department of Medicine. “He is driven by a passion to eliminate geographic and socioeconomic barriers that prevent patients from accessing specialized care, and his extraordinary commitment has achieved spectacular results.

Last year using a partnership with the Alabama Department of Public Health, Wallace became the first physician in the U.S. to conduct a comprehensive peritoneal dialysis visit by means of telemedicine, an accomplishment that has profound implications for patient access to care. Wallace is now actively driving telehealth at UAB as Medical Director of Telehealth, expanding UAB’s telemedicine capabilities to cover more types of nephrology visits including transplant and to incorporate telehealth in other medical subspecialties. He is also working in partnership with the Health System to influence policy on insurance reimbursements to remove financial barriers to telehealth.

Wallace organized last summer’s 5th Annual Alabama Telehealth Summit hosted at UAB, and he presented his work at the Renal Physicians Association, National Kidney Foundation, and will be presenting at the American Society of Nephrology meeting.

He has served with distinction on several prominent national committees, such as the Kidney Health Initiative-Telemedicine and Remote Monitoring for Home Dialysis and the International Society for Peritoneal Dialysis North American Research Consortium Research Committee.

Wallace also co-directs the Fabry and Other Rare Genetic Kidney Diseases Clinic at UAB, one of the largest Fabry clinics in the world, serving over 65 patients with this rare kidney disease. He has been the site investigator for multiple international studies involving Fabry patients, and he has presented both national and international lectures on Fabry disease. He plans on using telemedicine as a platform to deliver care to patients with all rare diseases, specifically complementing UAB’s new Precision Medicine Initiative.

Hussein Abdullatif, M.D.

RS7957 hussein abdullatif 2008 1 scrHussein Abdullatif, M.D.Hussein Abdullatif, M.D., professor in the Department of Pediatrics, is the senior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Teaching.

Joining the School of Medicine in 1999, Abdullatif has been the pediatric clerkship director/ co-director since 2006, as well as the co-director of the medical school endocrine module since 2007. He is the recipient of multiple teaching honors from students, residents and peers, including 28 Argus Awards, UAB President’s Award in Teaching, Ralph E. Tiller Distinguished Faculty Award and Sergio Stagno Friend of the House Staff Award, among many others. He’s also a two-time winner of the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award and has been recognized by the UA System Board of Trustees for teaching proficiency.

Leaders who nominated Abdullatif for the 2017 Dean’s Excellence Award said his knowledge and attitude make him a great role model for students, residents and fellows.

“He is truly someone special. He is someone who embraces everyone he meets and who is vested in so many lives. His humble spirit cannot help but affect everyone around him. He is ever present in clinic, in Morning Report, on the patient floors, and in the Medical School,” said Michele Nichols, M.D., professor in the Department of Pediatrics.  “He walks with a bounce and this is so indicative of his infectious enthusiasm for life and for learning. He is a teacher and mentor to many and a friend to all.”

“For nearly 16 years I have had the enviable fortune to work with Dr. Abdullatif,” said Kenneth McCormick, M.D., director of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology. “He’s a one-of-a kind physician, categorically unsurpassed as a teacher, endocrine scholar and consummate clinician.”

Jennifer Gordetsky, M.D.

Jennifer GordetskyJennifer Gordetsky, M.D.Jennifer Gordetsky, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pathology, is the junior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Teaching.

Gordetsky joined UAB in 2014 as an assistant professor in the Departments of Pathology.

“She hit the ground running and has been active in both undergraduate and graduate education. With her breadth of training in clinical medicine and pathology she is able to make topics come alive and demonstrate clinical relevance at the medical student and resident level,” said George J. Netto, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Pathology.  “Her energy and commitment to forward thinking educational approaches are appreciated by her students and her colleagues alike.”

Gordetsky is director of the Reproductive Module and, along with her co-director, Janet Bouknight, M.D., she has revised the module to highlight student-centered teaching modalities, created numerous self-directed learning sessions and interactive reviews focused on clinic-pathologic correlations.

Her innovations were well received by the students and in 2015 she won the UAB School of Medicine Dean's Research Award for innovations in case-based learning of histology, clinical, pathological and radiographic correlations. This award led to the development of a new "Prostate Tumor Board" activity for the 2016 Reproductive Module which exposed the students to the multi-disciplinary approach applied to the management of prostate cancer.

In her first year as course director, Gordetsky won the 2015 UAB School of Medicine Argus Award for Best Educator in the Reproductive Module. The same year, she received the Leonard H. Robinson Award for Excellence in Resident Education in Anatomic Pathology for her contributions to graduate medical education.