Dean's Weekly Message

February 8, 2021

Dear colleague: 

Natalia Vergara, PhD, assistant professor of ophthalmology, has been awarded a 3D ROC prize by the National Eye Institute (NEI) for her research team’s work to create better models to accelerate the development of new therapies for retinal diseases. The prize competition was established by the NEI to promote research on creating improved three-dimensional retinas in vitro, known as retinal organoids, derived from human stem cells, that can help researchers across the country with their work. The full name of the 3D ROC competition is 3D Retina Organoid Challenge. Natalia is a member of the CellSight multidisciplinary research initiative that is working to develop stem cell-based therapeutics to save and restore sight in patients with blinding diseases. The School has posted an announcement about the prize, along with the video that the team submitted to the NEI.

Kristen Nadeau, MD, professor of pediatrics, has been elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI). Kristen’s specialty is cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes, in particular women. She researches how insulin resistance in youth with type 2 and type 1 diabetes relates to the current and future complications of diabetes, such as heart disease, blood vessel disease, and other conditions. Election to the ASCI is a prestigious honor that recognizes physician-scientists for research that extends our understanding of health and improves treatment of diseases. Researchers who are 50 years of age or younger are eligible for nomination to the society. ASCI comprises more than 3,000 physician-scientists and each year the society adds no more than 80 new members from the several hundred who are nominated.

Elizabeth Harry, MD, associate professor in the Division of Hospital Medicine, is the lead author of an article examining the correlation between physician task load and the risk of burnout, which was published in the February issue of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety. Liz and her co-authors explore how cognitive task load affects providers’ ability to perform their job well. Using the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Task Load Index, the researchers evaluated physician task load, specifically the mental, physical, and temporal demands, along with the perception of effort. The researchers also used standard measures to determine burnout levels. They found a significant association between task load and burnout. Liz and her co-authors recommend that organizations focus more on the value of attention because making improvements that allow better concentration provides benefits for patients and providers alike.

Ajay Major, MD, MBA, a former resident in internal medicine and now a hematology/oncology fellow at the University of Chicago, is first author of an article in Academic Medicine that describes and assesses a pilot program to offer confidential and affordable mental health services to resident physicians at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. All internal medicine and internal medicine-pediatrics interns in the 2017-2018 class were enrolled in an opt-out mental health program. “Developing mental health programs for residents can be challenging, as previous research has revealed that lack of time, concerns about confidentiality, concerns about stigma, and cost are significant barriers to residents seeking mental health care,” the authors write. They conclude that this program was a cost-effective way to positively influence the well-being of residents. The School has posted an announcement about this article. Karen Chacko, MD, professor of medicine in the Division of Internal Medicine is the senior author of the article.

These two recent publications coincide with a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine, “Toward a Medical ‘Ecology of Attention,’” that I mentioned in last week’s message. That article is by Mark Kissler, MD, instructor in the Division of Hospital Medicine, Katherine Kissler, PhD candidate at the CU College of Nursing, and Marisha Burden, MD, head of the Division of Hospital Medicine. It also emphasizes the need for focused attention and urges administrators to consider ways to decrease extraneous interruptions that can interfere with high-quality patient care and provider satisfaction.

Reading these articles is a reminder that we do this work together. Our collaboration strengthens our efforts. If you’re feeling like you need help, ask for it. If you see others who are struggling, offer to help. There are many resources available to you. Providing excellent care for others requires taking care of yourself. The campus has resources for faculty and staff and for students and residents.

Eighteen CU physicians, residents, and medical students presented research last week at the Academic Surgical Congress, an annual convention hosted by the Society of University Surgeons. Among the CU School of Medicine representatives presenting virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic was Monica Patten, a second-year medical student who conducted research on the increased risk of suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. “I care a lot about the LGBTQ population, as I myself am a part of the population, and I am interested in the social determinants of health and health care policy in general,” says Patten, a former president of the CU chapter of Medical Student Pride Alliance. “I wanted to make sure that my research focused on those policies and populations in addition to just being surgical in nature.”

The Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine announced three awardees for its Gates Grubstake Fund: Eduardo Davila, PhD, professor in Division of Medical Oncology; Ulli Bayer, PhD, professor of pharmacology; and Michael Zuscik, PhD, professor of orthopedics. The titles of this year’s projects and previous year awardees are listed on the Gates Center website. The Gates Grubstake Fund provides three $350,000 awards annually to support translational development of regenerative medicine projects into patented, clinic-ready products.

The American College of Physicians (ACP) Colorado Chapter last Friday gave its annual awards. Bradley Changstrom, MD, assistant professor of medicine, received the Early Career Physician Award, Suzanne Brandenburg, MD, professor of medicine, received the Robert B. Gibbons, MD, MACP Distinguished Medical Educator Award, and Erik Wallace, MD, associate professor of medicine received the Laureate Award. Additional awardees are listed in the chapter’s January newsletter.

The Academy of Medical Educators Teaching Scholars Program is accepting applications. This 18-month certificate program, beginning August 2021, for health professions faculty, is designed to enhance knowledge and skills, and develop future leaders in medical and health care education with a focus on core components of educational scholarship and curriculum development. Deadline to apply is Thursday, March 11th. Details and application information are available on the AME website.

CU Anschutz Alumni is hosting its latest installment of the virtual Happy & Healthy Hour series at 5 p.m. Wednesday, February 10. CU Pharmacy faculty Wesley Nuffer, PharmD, and Monika Nuffer, PharmD, will discuss COVID-19 vaccine and integrative health strategies against COVID-19. The Happy & Healthy series was created to bring the CU Anschutz alumni, housestaff, students, faculty, and staff together for practical advice on personal wellness. To register, visit the Happy and Health Hour website.

Denver Health opened its new Outpatient Medical Center earlier this month and hospital leaders last week announced that it will soon serve as Denver Health’s largest vaccination clinic. The building has more than 200 exam rooms and eight operating rooms. Denver voters approved a bond measure in 2017 that helped pay for the building. In a news report last week Robin D. Wittenstein, EdD, Denver Health chief executive officer, said: “We built this facility to improve the care for our patients and the community we serve. Right now, getting as many people as possible vaccinated against COVID-19 is a top priority for our community. We are fortunate to have the ability to expand our vaccination sites by utilizing the OMC and can do so without interfering with our patient and staff needs. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

The December 2020/January 2021 issue of the Child Health Research Enterprise Newsletter has been posted. If you are unable to access the newsletter, contact for assistance.

I recommend watching this video of a talk last week by Mary C. Daly, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. In her talk, Ms. Daly is remarkably candid and thoughtful in discussing our responsibility as teachers and leaders in recognizing biases and how the practice of equity requires accountability, relentless effort, and humility. It requires empathy and a willingness to see ourselves and the rest of the world through the eyes of others. Early in Ms. Daly’s career as a faculty member at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, she had held two Black students to a lower standard than others in her class. In an anonymous course-evaluation form, one of those students wrote, “I wonder if Mary is a racist.” The student also signed her name. Ms. Daly invited the student for coffee, where the student explained that she and the other Black student felt like Ms. Daly had set lower expectations for them rather than hold them to the same standard as the other students. “You don’t even know what I’m capable of,” the student told her. Ms. Daly’s intent was to help. Instead, it was harmful. “Accepting the difference between impact and intent takes continuous commitment. It also takes courage, to have hard conversations again and again. To listen, with curiosity, even when it feels bad. And to take what we learn and make practical change.” The video is powerful testimony calling for personal responsibility and systemic reform.

There will be no message next Monday, February 15, due to the Presidents Day holiday.

Have a good week,

John J. Reilly, Jr., MD
Richard D. Krugman Endowed Chair
Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and
Dean, School of Medicine

The Dean’s weekly message is an email news bulletin from John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, Dean of the CU School of Medicine, that is distributed to inform University of Colorado School of Medicine faculty members, staff, students and others about issues pertaining to the School’s mission of education, research, clinical care and community service.  See the UCH-Insider →


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