Dean's Weekly Message

Dec. 18, 2017


Dear colleague: 

I am pleased to announce that Venu Akuthota, MD, has been named chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation effective January 1. Venu, who has been with the School of Medicine since 2002, is vice chair and professor of the department and medical director of the Spine Center at the University of Colorado Hospital. He has also served as the department’s residency program director. Venu succeeds Dennis Matthews, MD, who became chair in December 1996 and who has had a distinguished and pioneering career. Dennis is well-regarded for his insight and care for patients with pediatric muscle disease and cerebral palsy. Venu brings exceptional talent and experience to this leadership role. He is author of more than 90 publications, author/editor of two textbooks, and has spoken and chaired national and regional conferences. He is a founding senior editor of the PM&R journal and has held leadership positions in the North American Spine Society and Musculoskeletal Council Chair for the American Academy of PM&R. Our School has been fortunate to have high-quality, stable leadership in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and I am confident that Venu will continue to help our department excel. The selection of Venu was the culmination of a national search process that was led by Evalina Burger, MD, professor of orthopedics, and staffed by Carolyn Goble, office manager for the Dean’s Office. Thanks to them and all members of the search committee for their time and dedication in conducting this successful search. 

The fall 2017 convocation and commencement ceremonies for students in the School of Medicine’s Physical Therapy program were held last Friday, December 15, and Saturday, December 16. On Friday, the convocation event was on the Anschutz Medical Campus and then on Saturday, the all-campus commencement ceremony was at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. In this 70th anniversary year of our Physical Therapy Program receiving its initial accreditation, there were 70 graduates earning Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees. The program has flourished since it began as the first civilian professional program in the Rocky Mountain region and the first class of six student earned certificates in 1948. This year, the program ranked 15th in the country among the 217 programs reviewed by U.S. News and World Report. Also graduating during the ceremony were 11 School of Medicine students who earned Master of Science in Anesthesiology degrees as well as more than 50 PhD students in the Graduate School whose instructors included faculty of the School of Medicine. Congratulations to our most recent graduates. We look forward to hearing about your contributions to medical science and healthcare. 

At that Friday convocation ceremony, Tess Jones, PhD, associate director of the CU Center for Bioethics and Humanities, received the Cerasoli Award for Outstanding Contributions to Physical Therapy Education. This award was initiated in 1998 to honor and highlight significant contributions to physical therapy education by Pauline “Polly” Cerasoli, PT, EdD, director of CU Physical Therapy Program and assistant dean of allied health from 1988 to 1996. The award honors an individual who has made substantial and noteworthy contributions to advancing the reputation and status of the CU Physical Therapy Program, in particular noting Jones’ contributions in creating and teaching the humanities curriculum to our Doctor of Physical Medicine students. 

Abigail Lara, MD, associate professor in the Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine and the former fellowship director, and Jeff Druck, MD, associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and an assistant dean for student affairs, have been named co-directors of the School’s former Office of Professionalism. While the School made significant progress in establishing an infrastructure to address lapses in professional behavior since that office was established three years ago, we recognize that its mission needed to expand beyond remediation. As a result, the new name – the Office of Professional Excellence – reflects the broader mission that Abbey and Jeff are planning. To instill a culture of respect at our School requires more than a system for punitive measures, it requires a focused effort on creating and maintaining a culture where resilience and well-being are recognized as a cornerstone for a healthy workplace. Jeff and Abbey will be overseeing a comprehensive program that provides tools for faculty, residents, and students to care for themselves and others. 

The current issue of the CU Medicine Today magazine has been published. In this issue, you’ll find an article about Vikhyat Bebarta, MD, professor of emergency medicine, and his quest to find an antidote for chemical weapons exposure, a feature about the School of Medicine’s Urban Underserved Track providing care to Denver’s homeless population, a Q&A with James Kelly, MD, who recently returned to CU to lead the Marcus Institute for Brain Health, and profiles of medical students who are here because of generous benefactors supporting the Presidential Scholarship Initiative.  

Lindsey Lyle, PA-C, MPAS, instructor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Hematology, has received the MPN Hero Award, which recognizes medical professionals and others who provide or demonstrate care, guidance, education, or support above and beyond the standard of care for one or more patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms, a group of rare, chronic blood cancers in which a person’s bone marrow does not function properly. The Voices of MPN has posted a video of Lindsey discussing the importance of treating patients well and how caring for patients inspires her. I encourage you to watch it as a reminder of the patient-focused care we all should aspire to give. 

Shale Wong, MD, MSPH, has been appointed director of the Eugene S. Farley, Jr. Health Policy Center in the Department of Family Medicine. The Farley Center develops and translates evidence into policy to advance comprehensive, integrated strategies that improve individual, family, and population health. Shale has been part of the senior leadership of the Farley Center since its inception, and has served as its interim director for the past six months. She is a professor of pediatrics and previously has been a primary care research fellow and also a Robert Wood Johnson health policy fellow with the Institute of Medicine. She served as a health policy advisor to former First Lady Michelle Obama for development and implementation of Let’s Move!, a national initiative to prevent childhood obesity, and assisted in launching Joining Forces to improve health and wellness of military families. 

James Borgstede, MD, professor of radiology, has been named chair of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Board of Directors. He has been an active member of the society since joining in 1976 and a board member in 2013. RSNA is an association of over 54,000 radiologists, radiation oncologists, medical physicists and related scientists, promoting excellence in patient care and health care delivery through education, research and technologic innovation. 

CU Family Night at The National Western Stock Show is Friday, January 19. Tickets are $18 apiece for admission to the grounds and entrance to the rodeo at 7:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased online using the promo code CUANSCHUTZ. The National Western Stock Show is an important link to Colorado’s heritage and an excellent opportunity for our University to show support for our community. The Colorado Area Health Education Center program is again seeking volunteers to help with free health screenings during the National Western Stock Show, January 6-21.  Details are available on the AHEC website

Jacqueline Glover, PhD, professor of pediatrics, and Brian Jackson, MD, MA, assistant professor of pediatrics, were among the authors of an article in the December 11 JAMA Pediatrics that raised ethical considerations about the use of an expensive drug to treat spinal muscular atrophy. The article, “Ethical Challenges Confronted When Providing Nusinersen Treatment for Spinal Muscular Atrophy,” examines key questions about cost, limited evidence, informed consent, treatment allocation, fair distribution of responsibilities, and transparency with stakeholders. Jackie and Brian are faculty members at the CU Center for Bioethics and Humanities. The article’s lead author is at Stanford University School of Medicine and co-authors are from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University; Harvard Medical School; the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Lilia Cervantes, MD, associate professor of medicine and a physician at Denver Health, is the lead author of an article published today in JAMA Internal Medicine that documents the high mortality rates and costs of not providing scheduled hemodialysis treatments for undocumented immigrants with kidney failure. Lily and her co-authors reviewed care at three public hospitals: Denver Health, San Francisco General Hospital and Harris Health in Houston. They found higher mortality rates and more acute cases requiring hospitalization in Colorado and Texas, which provide emergency-only hemodialysis, when compared to patients in California, which allows scheduled, outpatient hemodialysis. Co-authors from the Denver Health and the CU School of Medicine are Jeffrey Zoucha, MD, Madelyne Hull, MPH, Angela Keniston, MSPH, Stuart Linas, MD, Mario Comacho, MD, and Jessica Kendrick, MD. 

As 2017 concludes, I want to thank you for your exceptional contributions to an extraordinary and eventful year for the CU School of Medicine and Anschutz Medical Campus. This weekly message to our community is intended to offer a summary overview of the work we do – from routine calls for volunteers to outstanding achievements in clinical care, teaching, and research. This week’s message is an especially impressive example of the breadth and depth of our work and how it makes a difference, whether through service to our professional communities or care for our patients and students. I appreciate your efforts and accomplishments and look forward to creating and maintaining an environment where you can have a successful 2018. 


There will be no message for the next two weeks due to the holidays. Have a safe and happy holiday season.


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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