Dean's Weekly Message

June 3, 2019

Dear Colleague:

The Class of 2019 Child Health Associate/Physician Assistant – also known as the “quietest class” – received their degrees on Thursday, May 23, at a ceremony held in the auditorium of Education 2 South due the cool temperatures and overcast sky. With friends and family gathered together, the 44 graduates were welcomed by Jonathan Bowser, MS, PA-C, director of the CHA/PA Program, celebrated by Tai Lockspeiser, MD, MHPE, medical director of the program, and exhorted to take flight by Janka Flaska, MPH, MMS, PA-C, emergency medicine instructor. Michael Hall, PhD, professor of physiology, who has been a faculty member for more than 30 years, received the Teaching Award and passed on his Kenny from South Park mascot (and apparently a teaching inspiration) to graduate Lauren Rodgers during the hooding ceremony.  Class speaker Samuel Schrager paid tribute to the importance of family and friends and his fellow class speaker Molly McLean explained how being dubbed the “quietest class” was a compliment: “Quietest conveys a sense of listening, of thinking, of trying to understand, and I would argue in this tumultuous, racially charged, politically charged health care climate that we’re about to enter, no skill is more important.”

On Friday, May 24, the Class of 2019 medical students graduated during a sunny ceremony on the Boettcher Commons – the first unquestionably good weather for commencement since I arrived here five years ago. The 158 graduates were wisely advised by guest speaker Tamaan Osbourne-Roberts, MD ’07, chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing: “Perfection is not a prerequisite to success. All wounds heal. Nothing lasts forever.”

During the all-campus commencement ceremony on Friday, May 24, Chancellor Don Elliman, Jr., announced a special honor for President Bruce Benson and CU First Lady Marcy Benson as the Bensons participated in their final graduation ceremony as University of Colorado leaders. The Anschutz Health Sciences Building, currently under construction on our campus, will include an open entrance hall that will be named the Bruce and Marcy Benson Atrium.

Commencement activities celebrate a culmination of achievements, but they really represent a new beginning. This year’s graduates are heading into a health care market where their skills are quite needed and where the confluence of social change and scientific progress will provide fabulous opportunities over the course of their careers. While everyone in the country will be swept by the impact of changing technology, the rapid pace of change, the growing diversity of our society, physicians in particular will be in a profession where they interact with everyone. As a result, many physicians may be the only person living in their neighborhoods who will have had a recent conversation with someone who is homeless or depends on Medicaid. With those experiences, physicians will have a special responsibility to help reshape our medical system in the years ahead. I believe our graduates are joining the profession at a time when their contributions are most needed. In fragmented communities, physicians are called on to care for everyone. There are strong economic imperatives to change the way we deliver medical care. It’s important that the people who deliver medical care advocate for the people who need medical care in that process. If we leave this in the hands of people who are only interested in finance, we will wind up with a system that none of us want to practice in and none of us want to be patients in.

One of the challenges of the transition from school to work is the passage from clarity to uncertainty. As students, we rose through the ranks by being good at school and passing tests with the highest scores. As a result, we grew accustomed to thinking that every question has an answer and that the student’s job is simply to learn all the answers. Now comes the hard part: Not every question has a clear answer. Perfection is a myth. It is a laudable, but unattainable, goal. We will continue to learn, but we are called now to constantly make decisions with incomplete data and to provide advice to people who do not have medical training. To best serve our patients and anyone else who depends on us, we must combine honesty and humility in our work. Be honest with yourself about when you’ve made a mistake. Admit it to yourself and your colleagues and resolve not to make the same mistake again. Listen to everybody on the health care team. What you seek in others is experience, intelligence, and observational skills, regardless of the initials after their last name. If you do that, you can be well on your way to being an outstanding physician.

During commencement activities, the University and the School of Medicine celebrated the achievements of three distinguished School of Medicine faculty members and to three generous benefactors:

  • Mark Earnest, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and head of the Division of General Internal Medicine, received the Joseph Addison Sewall Award for exceptional contributions of leadership and vision to the health sciences. Mark’s participation in and understanding of community service has improved our School’s way of teaching. His contributions include creating and leading programs that promote interprofessional cooperation, improve awareness of social determinants of health, and provide leadership and advocacy training for medical students. 
  • Margaret E. Wierman, MD, professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics, and obstetrics and gynecology, received the Joseph Addison Sewall Award for exceptional contributions of leadership and vision to the health sciences. Margaret has been an outstanding clinical leader, researcher, and mentor to trainees. She has helped establish programs to assist junior researchers apply for major grants and leads a gender equity initiative in the Department of Medicine. 
  • Lilia Cervantes, MD, associate professor of medicine, received the Florence Rena Sabin Award for exceptional contributions to the health of residents of the State of Colorado. Lily, who is a hospitalist at Denver Health, launched a research career based on her experience treating an undocumented immigrant patient who was denied regular and timely kidney dialysis. Her resulting work detailed how emergency-only kidney dialysis leads to higher mortality rates, causes harm to families, stresses caregivers, and ultimately leads to higher health care costs. Her work led to policy changes that allow scheduled dialysis for those patients. 
  • Michelle Sie Whitten, executive director of the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation and co-founder, president, and CEO of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, received the Distinguished Service Award for her tireless pursuit of excellence in care, research, and advocacy of people with Down syndrome.
  • Robert H. Allen, MD, professor emeritus of medicine and former head of the Division of Hematology, and his wife, Nancy Carroll Allen, were honored with the University Medal. Robert invented a more accurate method for measuring vitamin B12 in blood, and Nancy, a nurse, served as the clinical coordinator of the human studies with the new B12 assay. The Allens have endowed four chairs with their gifts to the University.

The School of Medicine also celebrated alumni reunion activities during the final week of May, coinciding with the commencement festivities. I would like to thank all alumni, and particularly the members of the Class of 1969, for returning to celebrate with us. This year’s alumni award honorees, who are featured in videos that are linked below, were recognized on Thursday, May 23, at the Silver and Gold dinner at the Hyatt Regency Aurora-Denver Conference Center near the Anschutz Medical Campus. The awardees were:

  • Kjell Lindgren, MD ’02, Silver and Gold Award, which recognizes humanitarianism, citizenship, professionalism, outstanding service to the community, and contributions to the art and science of medicine. Kjell served as a flight engineer for Expeditions 44 and 45 on the International Space Station in 2015, logging 141 days in space and two space walks totaling more than 15 hours, and taking part in hundreds of experiments. 
  • Theodore Ning, MD, Humanitarian Award, which recognizes lifelong service to society, extraordinary service to the community, and leadership through global and local service. Ted completed his residency at CU in 1975. During his chief residency year, Ning was involved in Operation Babylift, helping organize 4,000 Denver volunteers to care for 600 Vietnamese orphans evacuated from Vietnam to Denver as the war ended. In 1988, Ted and his wife, Connie, returned to Vietnam and created Friendship Bridge, which started with medical and nursing education programs, and medical equipment shipments. 
  • Helen Morris, MD ’56, Distinguished Achievement Award, which recognizes work benefiting the community, the practice of medicine and the provision of health care, and the CU School of Medicine and Medical Alumni Association. Helen served on the CU School of Medicine faculty, and held positions in endocrinology and clinical pharmacology. She has been a dedicated alumna, offering mentoring and financial support to generations of students and trainees. She established the Helen G. Morris, MD, Endowed Scholarship Fund and CU President Bruce Benson recognized her commitment by naming a presidential scholarship in her honor. 
  • Dennis Battock, MD ’64, the Richard Krugman Distinguished Service Award, which recognized him for a career of leadership in cardiology and service to the medical community. After completing his medical training, Dennis joined the U.S. Army, serving at Madigan General Hospital in Tacoma, Washington, and later returned to Denver to join the CU cardiology faculty, where he currently holds the position of clinical associate professor of medicine. Dennis has been a member of the Medical Alumni Board since 2013 and he and his wife, Jo, established the Dr. Dennis and Jo Battock Endowed Scholarship Fund.

I would like to thank the Department of Medicine for inviting me to give a Grand Rounds last Wednesday, May 29, where I addressed the future of academic medical centers in general, and ours in particular. While the School of Medicine has had strong financial growth in recent years, there are factors that point to a need for us to consider a steady state with a more moderate pace of growth. Federal funding for scientific research at the National Institutes of Health has been threatened, though Congress has supported modest increases in recent years. Clinical revenues have been continued to grow, but Colorado lags the country in terms of its shift from fee-for-service payments to networks of care that use outcomes-based compensation models. Yet, even though the pace of growth for clinical and research revenues could slow, we have many reasons to remain optimistic about our future. Our School is not constrained by physical boundaries the way some of our peers in large metro areas are. That means our faculty can grow with the community, but we need to be strategic in how we do so. Our philanthropic support, which has focused primarily on investments in the physical plant of our campus, has expanded in recent years to include more commitments for faculty recruitment and program development. Also, the School has vast investments in research teed up for the years ahead. Our partner, UCHealth, in the past 18 months has committed some $170 million in research funding commitments to support our endeavors. While I have said we must be more efficient in the use of our wet lab space on campus, that statement should not be viewed as a lack of support for our research mission. We are investing substantially in research. As of last week, the School, on behalf of our faculty, has committed some $526 million over the next seven years to research programs and I believe that medical care will be substantially improved in 2030 because of such support.

In May, the University Office of Advancement announced two major gifts in support of the CU Cancer Center. On Tuesday, May 21, the office said the University has received a $2 million commitment from the Patten-Davis Foundation. The funding includes $500,000 to establish the Gina Guy Endowed Professorship in Pancreatic Cancer Research and $1.5 million for a fund to support pancreatic research at the CU Cancer Center. In March, we announced that Alexis Leal, MD, assistant professor of medicine, was named the inaugural recipient of the Gina Guy Endowed Professorship in Pancreatic Cancer Research. On Wednesday, May 22, the Office Advancement announced that the University had received gifts and commitments totaling $1.5 million from Dennis Boggio to create the Meredith and Dennis Boggio Funds for Innovation at the CU Cancer Center. The funding will support lung cancer research and was donated in gratitude for the personalized care that Meredith is receiving from Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, and others at the CU Cancer Center. We are grateful for these and the many other gifts that support our School.

On Thursday, May 23, the University hosted a celebration to thank Marcia and Richard Robinson for a gift that turned the Leopold Korn and Michael Korn Professorship in Parkinson’s Disease into an endowed chair. The Robinsons, along with the Adelstein family, established the Korn Professorship in 2007. The Robinsons have previously supported the CU Cancer Center and the Center for Bioethics and Humanities.

The School of Medicine announced Thursday, May 30, that it is working in partnership with Colorado State University to open a branch of the CU School of Medicine in Fort Collins. Initial plans call for maintaining our MD class size at 184 students each year, with the possibility of expansion in the future. The first class in the program at CSU would include about a dozen students and would enroll in 2021. Eventually, the branch could enroll as many as 48 students per year. Students at the branch would earn medical degrees from the CU School of Medicine. Suzanne Brandenburg, MD, professor of medicine, is coordinating the process for us. She has already been working to recruit providers in the Northern Colorado medical community because a successful medical education program will depend on outstanding clinical learning opportunities. One of the first tasks is for the CU School of Medicine to hire an assistant dean for its Fort Collins branch. The School also will recruit faculty and prepare the documentation required by the School of Medicine’s accrediting body, which must approve the branch before it can open.

Congratulations to the 2019 Class of Boettcher Investigators, which this year includes five CU School of Medicine faculty members. From the CU Anschutz Medical Campus the awardees are M. Cecilia Caino, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology, Robert Dietz, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics; Neelanjan Mukherjee, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics; and Kelly D. Sullivan, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics. Kara J. Mould, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine, from National Jewish Health, was also named a Boettcher Investigator. This year’s is the 10th class to receive research funding through the Boettcher Foundation’s Webb-Waring Biomedical Research Awards program. The awards support promising, early career scientific researchers, allowing them to establish their independent research and make it competitive for major federal and private awards. Recipients are awarded $235,000 in grant funding to sustain up to three years of biomedical research. This year’s class brings the total number of CU-based Boettcher Investigators to 44, representing research awards of $10.2 million.

U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, who represents the congressional district that includes the Anschutz Medical Campus, visited on Tuesday, May 28, to learn about mental health programs. C. Neill Epperson, MD, chair of psychiatry, outlined the many clinical, research, and community outreach programs offered by our campus. Matt Mishkind, PhD, deputy director of the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center, explained how the center helps families, and Matt Vogl, executive director of the National Mental Health Innovation Center, gave an overview of how that program is designed to bring best practices directly where they are needed, citing the ResponderStrong program as an example. ResponderStrong helps improve mental health support for emergency responders and their families. Congressman Crow said he is interested in improving the quality of mental health care available in schools in our community.

The School of Medicine is accepting applications for program director of the NIH-funded Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). The director manages all aspects of the program, including recruiting students, overseeing curriculum, and advising students as they progress through the program. The program is for students pursuing a dual MD/PhD and matriculates 10-11 students annually. To receive a copy of the job announcement, contact Deborah Stevens, deborah.stevens@ucdenver.edu. To apply, send an email to Deborah with the Subject line: “MSTP Director”, including a letter of interest qualifications, and vision, and full CV. Applications are due Monday, June 10.

The first annual GME Quality & Safety Showcase will be held at noon Thursday, June 20, in the Bruce Schroffel Conference Center at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. Hosted by Graduate Medical Education and the CEPS Small Grants Program, this showcase will highlight seven teams of resident/fellow-led quality and process improvement efforts across multiple departments. Presenters include teams from the CEPS Small Grants Program, the Internal Medicine Hospitalist Training Program, and the GME Bonus Program.  Lunch is provided; RSVP is required. 

The Academy of Medical Educators is accepting nominations for its annual Education Awards. All faculty, including volunteer faculty, in the School of Medicine, including the Physical Therapy and Child Health Associate/Physician Assistant programs, are eligible for these awards. The categories include Excellence in Direct Teaching, Excellence in Curriculum Development or Educational Innovation, Excellence in Educational Administration or Leadership, Excellence in Research or Scholarship in Education, and Excellence in Mentoring and Advising. You can find more information and the nomination form on the Academy’s Education Awards webpage. The deadline to submit nominations is Monday, July 15.

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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