Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Dr. Fenwick Nichols is a Lifetime Achievement Award winner

Thirty-five years and counting. He has made an “indelible” impact on more than 100 neurology residents. In fact, the Department of Neurology’s excellence in teaching award was renamed to honor him in 2008 because he had been the recipient so many times. He has directed Neurology morning report since he joined the department in 1985, which has got to be some kind of record. He oversaw transcranial Doppler training for the treatment changing, federally funded STOP studies that began in  the mid-1990s and were based at MCG, which found this method was a safe, noninvasive way to identify children with sickle cell disease who were at risk for stroke, and also found blood transfusions could significantly reduce that risk. He has directed the Neurosonology Lab since 1990 and the Vascular Neurology Fellowship since 2003. He helped train stroke fellows going back into the 1980s, including me and Neurology Chair Dr. Jeff Switzer. He gets resounding reviews from our medical students as well to this day and is a 1976 MCG graduate. He has been on the editorial board of the journal Stroke since 2019; an author or co-author on 20 book chapters, many on stroke-related topics. His calm, happy countenance is a benefit to us all. He is Dr. Fenwick Nichols, one of two MCG faculty Lifetime Achievement Award recipients honored at this year’s virtual Faculty Awards Ceremony.

Dr. Greg Harshfield also is a Lifetime Achievement Award recipient in the 2020 MCG Faculty Awards

During his postgraduate work at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, he helped develop ambulatory blood pressure monitoring, which provides more useful insight into this routine measure of health. He was among the first to describe white coat hypertension, one of the reasons a single blood pressure check at the doctor’s office is not always an accurate indicator. He was among the first to report that at night, when blood pressure should drop to aid rest and recovery from the day, the blood pressure of some African Americans doesn’t dip as well as it should starting at a young age, which can help set the stage for significant blood pressure problems and related disease. His work here would continue to elucidate the impact of excessive sodium retention and stress. He led two National Institutes of Health Program Project grants on this relevant health topic of hypertension and, over his many years, garnered nearly $30 million in grant funding and a ton of published work to reflect that. He joined the MCG faculty and Georgia Prevention Institute in 1997 and was named GPI’s director in 2005. Dr. Greg Harshfield, now retired and living in Oregon, also has been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dr. Mike Brands receives top honors for institutional service

A hallmark of MCG is the contributions each of you make to science and medicine and to the institution itself. And, like Drs. Harshfield and Nichols, you approach it all with unfaltering enthusiasm. Dr. Mike Brands’ middle name really should be “Service,” but in the Dean’s office we call him “Big Chief” after the writing tablets that he uses (which you can only get on Amazon). This Regents’ professor in the Department of Physiology is a prolific scientist, educator and doer of what needs doing, even when it’s tough. The words “no” and “can’t” are not in his lexicon. Here’s just a few examples in recent years: chair of our Student Academic Promotions and Professionalism Committee and a member of the Faculty Promotion and Tenure Committee and the Pre-Tenure Review Committee. Last year he served on the College of Nursing Faculty Promotion and Tenure Committee. As dean and former department chair, I can assure you that even though there are objective benchmarks for promotion of faculty and students, these are some hard but necessary recommendations to make. Dr. Brands has chaired our Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, he has developed and served as course director for classes like Advanced Cardiovascular Physiology and grant writing in The Graduate School, and is course director for several of our first-year offerings like the genitourinary module. He has served multiple times as an external member of the Vascular Biology Center PhD Qualifying Exam Committee. He has served on search committees for deans and other leaders; and has continued to be a great cardiovascular-renal physiologist and collaborator. Of additional note, Mike and his wife Kelley Brands are the proud parents of Susan Brands, the M4 Class President, and Dr. Tricia Brands, an MCG graduate who practices obstetrics and gynecology in town. Apples don’t fall far from the trees.

Dr. David Stepp is this year’s Outstanding Faculty Award winner

Speaking of Physiology and the VBC, Dr. David Stepp, Leon Henri Charbonnier Endowed Chair in Physiology, is this year’s Outstanding Faculty Award recipient. He also has quite a service record including chairing the Promotion and Tenure Committee and the Pre- and Post-Tenure Review Committees. He gives medical students lectures about metabolic rate and talks with graduate students about obesity, vascular physiology, diabetes and the scientific method. He is collaborating with Neuroscience Chair Dr. Xin-Yun Lu on some fascinating studies about the connections between obesity and Alzheimer’s. He is working with VBC Director Dr. David Fulton on the equally interesting notion of how more muscle can combat some of the ill effects of fat. He is a longtime editorial board member for Journal of Vascular Research and Basic Research in Cardiology and more recently for Vascular Pharmacology. He received the Exemplary Teaching Award from us in 2018. He chairs the Basic Science Advisory Committee we established a few years ago to advise on issues important to our basic science researchers and educators. He is an individual who always has his finger on the pulse of what is happening here, is happy to plainly share the facts of a situation as he sees them and help if he can. In fact, if I don’t get an email from him with data from the NIH reporter on a monthly interval, I start to worry.

Dr. Barbara Russell honored for outstanding basic science teaching

Here’s another big job. Dr. Barbara Russell is senior director of the curriculum for our second-year students in Augusta, which means she works closely with the 190 students and some 100 faculty involved in teaching them, and she is good at it. Our students tell us she makes what is expected of them clear and ensures that their questions get answered. The pathology courses she teaches are organized, understandable and interesting. Dr. Russell, a member of our Pre-Clerkship Committee, Curriculum Oversight Committee and Continuous Quality Improvement Committee, has been very involved with the creation of our new curriculum that began to emerge this academic year. She worked with the AU Department of Medical Illustration (one of only three accredited graduate programs in the country) to develop the new Medical Illustration in Pathology course, which has also taken off like a rocket. Dr. Russell already is an honored educator, with two Exemplary Teaching Awards for Undergraduate Medical Education and the Educator of the Year Award from the Class of 2020 in 2018. She can now add to the list the Distinguished Faculty Award for Basic Science Teaching.

Dr. Anand Jillella honored for outstanding patient care

All the nominations for these outstanding faculty were heartfelt, but I wanted to quote directly from this one. “Dr. Jillella reminds me of the protagonist of the movie Red Beard by Akira Kurosawa, about a doctor who teaches his students how much valuing the patients as a whole, with care and compassion, is the entire purpose of our careers,” Dr. Jorge Cortes, director of the Georgia Cancer Center writes about this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Faculty Award for Patient Care. No doubt. Dr. Anand Jillella, chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant and director of Ambulatory Services, Network and Outreach in the Cancer Center, is a physician’s physician. He works long and diligently for our patients in the hospital, clinic and the stem cell and bone marrow transplant program that he started many years ago. He gets rave reviews from his patients, essentially 100% on Press Gainey patient satisfaction scores. He is a great colleague on campus who also has helped build a strong referral network with our colleagues across our community and beyond, ensuring that like our patients, they get the attention and timely information they deserve. In fact, this expert in blood cancers worked with our Dr. Vamsi Kota, who now directs the bone marrow and stem cell transplantation program, to develop a method so oncologists in communities across the country could better manage the rare and often lethal acute promyelocytic leukemia. Even still, you may catch Dr. Jillella striding across campus at all hours with no sign of being tired.

MCG Faculty Senate, Drs. Vincent Robinson, Vishal Arora enable the honors

I hope these biweekly writings are a regular reminder of the quality and impact of you, our faculty, staff, students, residents and fellows, who are the Medical College of Georgia. I want to thank particularly today Faculty Senate President Dr. Vincent J.B. Robinson for his significant work on behalf of our faculty, and Dr Vishal Arora, chair of the Faculty Senate Faculty Recognition Committee and secretary of the Executive Committee. I also must thank Laurie LaChance, administrative assistant in the Dean’s Office who also now helps support our Faculty Senate, for helping pull this significant awards event together, and super Senior Video Producer Tim Johnson for his excellent effort in helping bring this event to life since we could not be together.  Please take a few moments to watch the great video and read more about all our honorees here.

Dr. Mark Hamrick is the new senior associate dean for research

I have one more piece of great news I can’t wait two more weeks to share with you. Dr. Mark Hamrick, bone and muscle biologist, Regents’ Professor and George W. Weiss Research Professor, is our new senior associate dean for research. Like the other great individuals we have talked about today, I think Dr. Hamrick is a perfect fit for this job. Not unlike Dr. Stepp, he is well-attuned to what and who is happening in research here and nationally. He has always been a strong scientist, collaborator and mentor. Now Dr. Hamrick can help our medical school take a bigger picture look at research to help us ensure that the people, facilities and support are where they should be. And, with our 23% percent increase in NIH funding this past year, now is the time to keep our foot on the research accelerator. An emerging challenge is identifying more good lab space for our scientists, and Dr. Hamrick, who came to us in 2002 from Kent State University, knows the space we have, what we could better use and what we need. Excellent management and support that enables our scientists to optimally work in areas of health concern to our state and nation, like cardiovascular disease, neurological disease and aging, Dr. Hamrick’s area of focus, is our goal. But I believe another result will be upward, deserved movement in our objective national rankings that will help put us among the top 50 medical schools based on research funding. As we have talked about, even in these challenging times, research funding and activity are up because of the hard work of our scientists. Please join me in congratulating and thanking Dr. Hamrick and all our award winners. I really am excited about what is ahead for you and for MCG.

Dr. Robyn Hatley had an early debut on PBS

One more thing before we close, in case you have not thought enough about MCG and football. Dr. Eric Lewkowiez, our third-year class dean, came across this great 1970s piece on Pediatric Surgeon Dr. Robyn Hatley, who was already a rock star before he came to us. He hails from Jersey City, New Jersey. While earning a biology degree at Eastern Kentucky University, Dr. Hatley, who had a football scholarship to the university, also was an offensive tackle and captain of the football team. He was voted best offensive lineman two years running and the offense’s Most Valuable Player in his senior year. Dr. Hatley, who was also an academic star, was named the university’s Outstanding Alumnus in 1990. Here his work has helped transform the lives of countless children and he has won too many Exemplary Teaching Awards to count. To this day he can run circles around most of us.  I often see him running early in the morning on Walton Way. The smile hasn’t changed either.

Please continue to take good care out there and “mask up”.

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