Dean's Weekly Message

May 20, 2024

Dear Colleague: 

Graduation honors accomplishments. Commencement indicates new beginnings. Today, we celebrate both with the Class of 2024.

The individual and collective achievements of this class are remarkable. Beginning medical school during a pandemic was a test no one studied for. We scrambled and zoomed our way through. We kept a safe distance, we wore our masks, and we lined up for vaccines as soon as we could. And we continued our work.

Our work requires interaction and collaboration. Even the introverts among us can’t become physicians or scientists or physician assistants or medical school administrators by ourselves. We learn from one another to care for each other. We expand knowledge by first learning from our predecessors and our peers.

This is my 10th graduation celebration as Dean of the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and it will be my final one. This year is the beginning of a new phase for me too. The appointment of my successor, John H. Sampson, MD, PhD, MHSc, MBA, from Duke University, was announced last Thursday, and I will step down as Dean on July 1.

I thank Chancellor Don Elliman for his support and leadership during my time as Dean. He has been a transformational leader for our campus and his practical engagement with every issue we have faced has been essential to our success. He has been an outstanding partner for me over the past 9+ years.

I also thank our team of leaders at the School of Medicine – every department chair, center director, dean, and director – who have been dedicated to our school, committed to our leadership agenda, and involved every step of the way.

All our faculty and staff have been the foundation that makes it possible to chase big dreams. We were a strong school when I arrived in 2015, and we are stronger today because our colleagues have done their part to serve our community and make the CU School of Medicine a better place. Leading such a talented and dedicated team has been a privilege.

We have trust with our community to maintain, relationships with our partner hospitals and research collaborators to strengthen, hundreds of future health care professionals to train, and many other commitments to keep. I am confident that our school will continue to inspire others and achieve impressive results.

Congratulations Graduates
Our celebration of the Class of 2024 included the Honors Convocation last week where we recognized high academic achievements by many of our graduates. Thirty-one members of the class were newly inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha honor society. More than 35 other awards for excellence were bestowed in a gathering of graduates and their families in the Krugman Conference Hall.

This morning, we gather for the formal all-campus commencement ceremony and for convocations for our MD and Child Health Associate/Physician Assistant programs. Ernest C. Madu, MD, a cardiologist who is founder and chairman of the Heart Institute of the Caribbean, is the guest speaker at the MD convocation. “We are privileged to have Professor Ernest Madu as our keynote speaker,” said Shanta Zimmer, MD, senior associate dean for education. “His dedication to advancing health care and his commitment to excellence resonate deeply with our institution’s values. We are confident that his address will inspire our graduates as they embark on their medical careers.”

Four members of the Class of 2024 are featured in profiles posted in the School of Medicine newsroom:

  • Haya Kaliounji grew up in Aleppo, Syria, and left the country after a civil war erupted. She and family members eventually landed in Los Angeles. While finishing high school, she started Rise Again, a nonprofit that has provided medical care for Syrians. Haya will continue her medical training with a residency in internal medicine with our school.
  • David Duarte-Corado became interested in medicine during elementary school in Aurora, where he served as a translator at medical appointments for his Spanish-speaking parents who had immigrated to the United States from Guatemala. David is joining the CU Anesthesiology Residency Program.
  • Rachael Branscomb was born in China, adopted when she was a year old, and grew up near our campus. During a gap year after college, she worked as a scribe in an emergency department in Brooklyn. During medical school, she volunteered at the DAWN Clinic, a student-run free clinic for underserved communities in Aurora. She matched for a pediatric residency with our school and will train at Children’s Hospital Colorado and Denver Health.
  • Paige Romer was a middle-school teacher before coming to medical school, and she’s continued to emphasize the value of learning while here. With help from Tai Mara Lockspeiser, MD, professor of pediatrics, and Deborah Seymour, PsyD, associate professor of family medicine, Paige developed a program to teach the science of learning to incoming medical students. Paige matched to our Medicine-Pediatrics Residency Program.

Congratulations to all members of the Class of 2024. We look forward to your continuing contributions to the health and well-being of our world.

Lung Cancer Survivorship Celebration
At the 5+ Years Lung Cancer Survivorship Celebration earlier this month, a crowd filled the Elliman Conference Center.  The event gives survivors, their loved ones, and their caregivers time to chat with one another and to marvel at the quality of care they’ve received. The stories and the smiles at the event offer comfort and confidence.  The survival data offer proof. According to our clinical partner UCHealth, 46.3% of lung cancer patients treated at University of Colorado Hospital make it to the five-year mark, compared to the national average of 23%.

D. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and CU Cancer Center member, explains that the reason for the event is to inspire patients and caregivers: “So when we did this event the first time, I said, ‘We’re going to take a picture of everyone who’s here, and we’re going to make it as big as we can, and we’re going to stick it on the wall of the clinic.’ And I show it to people when they come in, and I say, ‘All these people have survived five years.’ It’s a way of embodying hope, more than just a doctor quoting survival numbers at them.”

You can see a picture of those who gathered for this year’s event with this article in the University of Colorado Cancer Center newsroom. While there, check out the video of Tejas Patil, MD, assistant professor of medicine, gracing the attendees with a piano performance. Our colleagues Timothy Waxweiler, MD, assistant professor of radiation oncology, Jamie Studts, PhD, professor of medicine, and Amy Young, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pathology, are included in the article discussing their work.

Faculty Updates
David Bentley, PhD, professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics and co-director of the RNA Bioscience Initiative, has been elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s national academy of sciences. The Royal Society is a fellowship of many of the world’s most eminent scientists and is the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. Fellows are leaders in their fields and are drawn from across academia, industry, and wider society.

Lori Sussel, PhD, professor of pediatrics and director of basic and translational research at the Barbara Davis Center of Diabetes, has been awarded Albert Renold Prize by the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD). The award recognizes Lori for outstanding contributions to better understand the function of the pancreas. The prize will formally be awarded in September 2024 at the annual meeting of the EASD in Madrid, where Lori will deliver the 18th Albert Renold Lecture.

Rita Lee, MD, professor of medicine, last week received the 2024 Herbert W. Nickens Award from the Society of General Internal Medicine (SGIM) in recognition of her exceptional work in advancing health equity. The award honors a member of SGIM, a global association of more than 3,300 academic general internists, for demonstrating outstanding commitment to cultural diversity in medicine or improving minority health. Rita is a founding member of the UCHealth Integrated Transgender Program. Rita is also director of the Health Equity in Action Lab for the CU Anschutz Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement. More information about Rita and the award is included in an article in the Department of Medicine newsroom.

Theresa Grover, MD, professor of pediatrics, is co-author of an article published May 14 in the Journal of Perinatology that examines neonatal outcomes of 119 infants with gastroschisis who were born at less than 32 weeks of gestation, compared to 357 matched infants without gastroschisis. According to the analysis of infants at Children’s Hospitals Neonatal Consortium NICUs from 2010 to 2022, infants with gastroschisis, a congenital abdominal wall birth defect, are at higher risk of morbidities due to longer central line days, longer hospital stays, greater need for tube feedings at discharge, and associated infections.

Nee-Kofi Mould-Millman, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine, is corresponding author of a research article published May 10 by PLOS Global Public Health that evaluates the preventability of injury-related deaths in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. For the study, a panel of 23 multidisciplinary experts familiar with the local emergency and healthcare system evaluated data covering a cohort of trauma deaths in 2021. Several co-authors are from our School of Medicine.

Samuel R. Dominguez, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics, and Erin Ho, MD, a fellow in the pediatric infectious diseases program, are co-authors of an early release article posted online last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. The article evaluates 2,299 pediatric patients infected with Delta or Omicron variants of COVID. Compared with pre-Delta variants, more children were symptomatic, admitted to intensive care, or received oxygen support.

Lauren Hughes, MD, MPH, MSc, MHCDS, associate professor of family medicine and state policy director of the Eugene S. Farley, Jr. Health Policy Center, is co-chair of the National Academies Standing Committee on Primary Care, which is holding its first public meeting today, May 20, and tomorrow. She will serve as host and moderate a discussion on ways to strengthen primary care.  Stephanie Gold, MD, associate professor of family medicine, participating as a James C. Puffer, MD/American Board of Family Medicine Fellow from the National Academy of Medicine, will be participating to identify actions the standing committee can take. The meeting agenda and registration are at the committee’s website.

In Memoriam
Terrence “Terry” O’Connor, MD,  clinical professor of emergency medicine who helped launch our Diploma in Climate Medicine Program, died Friday, May 10, in an avalanche while he was backcountry skiing in Idaho. Leaders from our Climate and Health Program lauded Terry for his remarkable service as a physician and for his expertise in global and planetary health. A report on NBC News offers details about his life.

Administrative Showcase
The School of Medicine is hosting a showcase on June 21 for administrative staff to share best practices and innovative solutions that have streamlined their work and enhanced operational efficiency. The team hosting the event has issued a call for submissions for administrators at all levels to make presentations on the secrets, shortcuts, and other strategies to do their jobs better. Presenters have the option of a 5- to 7-minute rapid-fire talk or a short presentation of 10 to 15 minutes. Submissions are due Monday, May 27. The event will be from 8 a.m. to noon on Friday, June 21 in the Gossard Family Forum of the Fulginiti Pavilion. Register to attend. For questions, contact

There will be no message on May 27 due to the Memorial 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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