May 28, 2021

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Dr. Walt Moore, rheumatologist, longtime GME leader passes

I think and talk often about the legacy of our nearly 200 year old medical school. It’s a good topic for me because I love history and MCG and the two combine not always perfectly, but in a way that should make us proud and ever mindful of how we got here and how to make our medical school, Georgia’s public medical school, even better. Key to both is each of you and the many who have come before. The passion, commitment and knowledge you bring here each day are, as I say, key ingredients of MCG’s secret sauce. We lost one of those ingredients this week: Dr. Walt Moore. Dr. Moore was a gentle giant, an individual who served his country and this medical school without hesitation. In fact, the Reading, Pennsylvania native, rheumatologist, honored educator and U.S. Army veteran, was taking call just last week even as an illness was about to end his life. I always told him that his one weakness was that the word “No” was not in his lexicon. Whatever I asked, his answer was “Yes.” Dr. Moore was a 1977 graduate of Georgetown University School of Medicine and completed his internal medicine residency and rheumatology fellowship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. During his 27-year career in the Army his honors included the Legion of Merit Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal with an oak leaf cluster. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, where he served as chief of the medical staff and deputy commander for clinical services, brought him to our neck of the woods. He became a clinical faculty member in 1983 and really became part of us when he was named chief of our Division of Rheumatology 20 years ago. He would later become senior associate dean for graduate medical education. Time and again, our students have honored him as Educator of the Year and Dr. Moore received the 2006 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award from the senior class. He was consistently ranked among the country’s top physicians. He was elected a master of the American College of Physicians several years ago, and why he was elected sums him up well: A practitioner of internal medicine who demonstrates strength of character and compassion and serves as a mentor and advocate. As the word spread of his loss this week, the reaction was consistent, which also speaks volumes about the man. Moore’s calm, pleasant and committed countenance will be missed for years to come. My thoughts are with his family and his many, many friends.

Dr. Martha Tingen receives Spirit of MCG Award

There was celebration this week too. Last night, we had our annual Faculty Awards ceremony and it was so good to see people (safely) gather again for this recognition of our medical school’s abundant talent and accomplishments. Dr. Martha Tingen, associate director of cancer prevention, control and population health, a prolific investigator and mentor, who works as hard as anyone I know to prevent unhealthy lifestyles like smoking and alcohol use and the sickness and death that can result, was rightly honored there with the Spirit of MCG Award. Dr. Tingen is one of the busiest doers among us who doesn’t seem to know the word “no” unless it’s in reference to unhealthy life choices. Like the best among us, she is out of her office more than in it, all over not just our campus but much of our state, particularly to seek out those who live in the medically underserved parts, to find out what they need and to find a way to provide it. She has led strategies to reduce opioid use among six University System of Georgia universities as well as five technical colleges across the state with the highest rates of misuse. She has taken on the use of e-cigarettes and alcohol in our community and worked to find the most effective way to help those at highest risk for lung cancer stop smoking. As you will read in the next issue of MCG Medicine magazine that will be out in early summer, she even took, what had to be the hardest moment of her life, the loss of her son Nathan, and directed her seemingly endless energy into suicide prevention. In the great legacy of MCG, she has multiplied her significant impact by teaching others what she has learned and how they can also help. She shared with Dr. Vincent J.B. Robinson, president of our Faculty Senate: “My goal, Dr. Robinson, is to work across the lifespan so that every person can become what they dream to be.” Dr. Tingen has quite a spirit and we are fortunate that she shares it with MCG and the community.

Dr. Ruth Harris honored as Outstanding Faculty member

Dr. Ruth B.S. Harris, physiologist and Regents Professor in our Department of Physiology, is this year’s Outstanding Faculty Member. Dr. Harris is a well-funded and well-published scientist, scientific and institutional leader and great educator and mentor. She is a world traveler, who earned her PhD at the University of Leeds and did her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Georgia. She was a faculty member at UGA for a long time and came to us from there in July 2009. She has served as president of the international Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, a multidisciplinary group of scientists who work to advance research on food and fluid intake and its associated biological, psychological and social processes. She has studied how sugary drinks are bad for us, including increasing our resistance to the satiety hormone leptin, and I am sure would join Dr. Tingen in telling us to avoid them. She teaches medical and graduate students about respiratory and endocrine physiology. She chairs our Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Like Dr. Tingen she is selfless with her time, and MCG and the world benefit.

Dr. Kapil Sethi receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Dr. Kapil Sethi, neurologist and renowned movement disorders specialist who came to us as a neurology resident in 1983 and never left (he beat me here by three years) is this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. Even though he is technically emeritus now, you can still find him at some classic educational moments like grand rounds and consulting on some of the most difficult patient cases that come to us and others. Dr. Sethi definitely has had a lifetime of impact here and beyond. He directed our Movement Disorders Program for more than 30 years and our National Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence for nine years. He is a founding member and served as vice president of the Tremor Research Group and project director for the Parkinson Research Alliance of India, which he helped develop to bring more clinical trials to his homeland, the second-most populace nation in the world. He served on the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Neurology and served on the Executive Committee of its Movement Disorders Section. He was considered among the top diagnosticians of unusual movement disorders and was an early advocate for the use of video in conversations with patients. He was an investigator on more than 100 clinical trials and observational studies in his relentless effort to find better treatment for patients and served a term as associate editor for the premier journal in his field, Movement Disorders.

Dr. Renuka Mehta honored with Institutional Service Award

Pediatric intensivist Dr. Renuka Mehta is this year’s Institutional Service Award recipient. Take a deep breath before you start reading this but highlights of her contributions include an ongoing leadership role in the Faculty Senate including serving as president from 2017-19, right before Dr. Robinson, and serving on the Student Promotions Committee for six years. She advocated for and now chairs the MCG Wellbeing Committee that helps ensure our faculty are looked out for; she serves on our hospital’s Emergency Resuscitation and Response Committee, Organ Donation and Transplant Committee and Sepsis Prevention Committee.  At our Children’s Hospital of Georgia, she chairs the Resident Wellbeing Committee and is heavily involved with students and residents alike including serving on the Residency Clinical Competency Committee, the Resident Program Evaluation Committee and the Pediatric Students Evaluation Committee. She is the medical student evaluation director and resident’s education director for the pediatric intensive care unit and has served for more than a decade on the Human Assurance Committee. She is a committed mentor for everyone from undergraduates with an interest in medicine to faculty who are practicing medicine. She is a great citizen of medicine and MCG, and we are thankful.

Linda James receives inaugural Champion of Diversity Award

Linda James, our assistant dean for student diversity and inclusion, has been a regular in these writings because of her excellence and innovation in helping ensure that MCG is the place where all medical students want to learn and ensuring their success here. She is director of the now 50 + year-old SEEP pipeline program for high school and college students and director of the Igniting the Dream of Medicine Conference, which we also have talked about a lot because it is a great idea and success. Most recently she helped start and is co-advisor of Black Men of the Medical College of Georgia. She is a member of the Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, a voting member of our Admissions Committee and co-advisor to the Student National Medical Association. She first joined us as a research assistant in 1986, we lost her (their win) to Paine College for about 16 years, then she came back in 2004 as director of SEEP and Diversity Outreach. Class of 2023 student Gina Dominguez Castillo says it well: “All my interactions with her are always ones of support and encouragement.” For these reasons and about a million more Ms. James is the inaugural recipient of our Champion of Diversity Award.

Educator of the Year winners selected by MCG students

The list of winners goes on and includes those Educator of the Year honorees selected by our students. Excellent educator awards went to Dr. Eric Ring, Department of Pediatrics, from the Class of 2021; Dr. Ellen House, Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior, Class of 2021, at the Athens campus;  MCG graduate  Dr. Lisa Leggio, Department of Pediatrics, Class of 2022; Dr. Katherine Moore, Department of Surgery, Class of 2022, Athens campus; Dr. Nicole Winston, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Class of 2023; MCG graduate Dr. Thomas Howdieshell, Department of Surgery, Class of 2023, Athens campus; and Drs. Gerard Guillot, Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy, Class of 2024; and Dr. Robert Mackin, Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy, Class of 2024,  Athens campus. Our Department of Pediatrics, under the leadership of MCG graduate Dr. Valera Hudson, is once again recipient of the Outstanding Clinical Science Teaching Award, this time from the Class of 2021; and the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, under the leadership of Dr. Alvin Terry, the Outstanding Basic Science Teaching Award recipient from the Class of 2023.

Mentoring Excellence, Distinguished Faculty Award winners

Other big winners selected by their peers, our faculty, include Dr. Satish Rao, J. Harold Harrison MD, Distinguished University Chair in Gastroenterology and director of Neurogastroenterology and Motility and the Digestive Health Clinical Research Center, who received the Mentoring Excellence Award. His nominees rightly referred to Dr. Rao as an “internationally legendary research and thought leader” in his field whose mentorship has led them to also want to aggressively pursue new knowledge in their field and he is always right there (busy as he is) to guide, mentor and inspire. Distinguished Faculty Awards went to Dr. Bal Lokeshwar, J. Harold Harrison MD, Distinguished University Chair in Basic Sciences and co-program director of the Biochemistry and Cancer Biology Graduate Programs, for basic science teaching. Dr. Lokeshwar is an organized, enthusiastic, responsive and successful teacher who even goes to area colleges, as well as middle and high schools, to inspire future scientists and help ensure recruitment of the best PhD students, who are essential to science at every medical school. You know I always love to mention when someone is an MCG graduate so 2011 MCG graduate Dr. Ashley Saucier, associate director of medical student education in the Department of Family Medicine who will soon be the director, received the Distinguished Faculty Award for Clinical Science Teaching. Dr. Saucier is an innovative educator, who already has developed the senior elective Pharmacotherapy of Chronic Diseases in Family Medicine and the Pandemic Medicine Selective we have talked about here, which enabled our students to continue learning despite the pandemic. Great going.

Drs. Yutao Liu, Tianxiang Hu, Alicia Vinyard among those honored in science

Dr. Yutao Liu, vision scientist and human geneticist in our Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy, is the Basic Science Research Distinguished Faculty Award recipient. This expert in dissecting diseases like the progressive, double vision inducing keratoconus, and glaucoma, is a prolific, inspired and extremely well-funded scientist and generally great citizen of MCG and internationally. Dr. Tianxiang Hu, developmental biologist in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Georgia Cancer Center, was honored as the Outstanding Young Basic Science Faculty member. Dr. Hu, who came to us in 2011 as a postdoc, focuses on the molecular mechanisms regulating leukemia’s initiation and progression and modulating the immune system in leukemia, with his eye on novel therapies. Dr. Alicia Vinyard, breast surgical oncologist and associate surgery clerkship director, is the Outstanding Young Clinical Science Faculty Award recipient. She was a general surgery resident here and came back to join the faculty after completing her fellowship at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in 2017. Her enthusiastic studies already include trying to find whether the best surveillance for patients following mastectomy and reconstruction includes an annual MRI.

Dr. Sharad Ghamande also honored for clinical science, Dr. Jose Vazquez for patient care

The always prolific physician scientist Dr. Sharad Ghamande, a gynecologic oncologist who chairs our Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, received the Distinguished Faculty Award for Clinical Science Research. His mammoth efforts include countless studies to improve survival rates in hard to treat cancers like ovarian cancer, and leading National Cancer Institute-funded efforts to improve access to innovative therapies for minority and underserved communities. Last but hardly least, Dr. Jose Vazquez, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, who has been a particularly busy man in the past 14 months, received the Distinguished Faculty Award for Patient Care. Dr. Vazquez has been at the forefront of this pandemic as it reached proportions none of us would have imagined. He is regarded as a thoughtful, diligent and pragmatic clinician, who has looked out for the wellbeing of our patients and of us, their caregivers, in these unprecedented times.

My thanks to the leadership of the MCG Faculty Senate

Finally today, please let me thank the leadership of the Faculty Senate, Dr. Robinson, president-elect Dr. Julie Dahl-Smith, secretary Dr. Vishal Arora and immediate past president Dr. Mehta for their formidable service to MCG. I want to also thank the staff in the Dean’s Office, particularly Leslie Bedenbaugh, who I am very happy is executive assistant to the dean, and Nikia Erickson, senior project coordinator, for stepping up to provide excellent support to the Faculty Senate over this unusual academic year.

Please get vaccinated so we can put this pandemic behind us.

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