May 31, 2024

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Faculty Senate Awards give us the chance to honor the hard work you do on behalf of our medical school

It is always a great day when we get the chance to recognize the hard but always incredible work you all do for the good of this medical school. I don’t get the chance to tell you often enough what an honor it is to serve alongside you every day. Last week, however, did give us one of those chances — at our Faculty Senate Awards ceremony. This annual gathering is a way to recognize the exceptional achievements of you, our faculty and residents, in the areas of teaching, research, clinical care and service. Please let me take another moment here today to simply say how much I appreciate each and every one of you. My thanks goes as well to our Faculty Senate, specifically to the members of the Faculty Recognition Committee for helping select this year’s award winners.

Dr. Betty Pace receives Champion of Diversity Award; Dr. Jennifer Sullivan receives Outstanding Faculty Award

This year, Dr. Betty Pace was recognized with the annual Champion of Diversity Award. Dr. Pace, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist with a laser focus on finding new treatments for the debilitating and many times fatal effects of sickle cell disease, serves as Francis J. Tedesco, Distinguished Chair of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology. In addition to her own research, Dr. Pace has personally trained over 100 junior scientists in her laboratory. She also directs the NHLBI-funded training Program to Increase Diversity for Individuals Engaged in Health-Related Research Functional and Translation Genomics (PRIDE-FTG). Over 114 junior faculty members have completed the program, which is undoubtedly helping expand the diversity of the country’s biomedical sciences workforce.

Dr. Jennifer Sullivan, dean of The Graduate School, was honored as this year’s Outstanding Faculty Award winner. This internationally recognized expert and leader in the field of sex differences in cardiovascular physiology and pathophysiology has been continuously funded by the NIH and the American Heart Association for over 15 years, and her work is routinely published in top journals in the field of hypertension. Certainly impressive. But perhaps even more importantly, like Dr. Pace, Dr. Sullivan is an exceptional teacher who has helped train and mentor five postdoctoral fellows, eight PhD students as major advisor, 12 PhD students as a thesis committee member, 10 undergraduate students and four medical students.

Dr. Natalie Lane honored for a lifetime of achievements; Dr. Joseph Hobbs embodies the spirit of MCG

This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award went to pediatric emergency medicine physician, Dr. Natalie Lane, who came to MCG in 1997 and has served as director of our Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellowship for nearly two decades. She also is chief of pediatric emergency medicine and medical director of the emergency department at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. An honored educator, Dr. Lane counts helping future pediatric emergency medicine physicians find their place within the field, as well as ensuring a continuum of care for patients once they leave the peds ER, among her greatest professional passions. She is a leader in state and national organizations like Emergency Medical Services for Children and leads the Preparedness Committee for the Georgia Pediatric Health Improvement Coalition.

I can think of no one better to receive an award called the Spirit of MCG than Dr. Joseph Hobbs, our longtime chair of Family and Community Medicine and 1974 graduate who has dedicated his career to his alma mater. It’s tough to count all the ways he’s served this medical school, but some include senior associate dean of primary care, director of the Family Medicine Residency Program, Student Education and Family Medicine In-patient Service. He helped nurture the evolution of the Family and Community Medicine Center, implementing the medical school and our teaching hospital’s first ambulatory electronic health record and establishing its practice as a NCQA Recognized Patient Centered Medical Home. He also secured state funding to support the growth and support of the Family Medicine Residency Program. He “retired” in 2020, but we wouldn’t let him get far. He is working today in Academic Affairs, helping us expand teaching partnerships with Federally Qualified Health Centers and Community Health Centers throughout the state.

Educators of the Year, Outstanding Teaching Departments also recognized

The awards ceremony is also a great time for our students to get to recognize the faculty who are helping mold them into future physicians and physician/scientists. The students in each of our classes, both here and at the Partnership Campus in Athens, make their selections for Educator of the Year. No award is more important than this award given by our students. This year’s recipients are, from the Class of 2024 in Augusta: Dr. Christopher Watson, professor, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, and in Athens: Dr. Thomas Howdieshell, Professor, Department of Surgery; from the Class of 2025 in Augusta: Dr. Jack Ellis, associate professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Hospital Medicine, and from Athens: Dr. Kimberly Rathbun, associate professor, Department of Emergency Medicine; from the Class of 2026 in Augusta: Dr. Nicole Winston, associate professor, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, and in Athens: the ever-popular, repeat winner and influential Dr. Howdieshell; and from the Class of 2027 in Augusta: Dr. Amanda Barrett, assistant professor, Department of Pathology, and in Athens: Dr. Brett Szymik, associate professor in the Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy. This year’s second-year class (2026) voted to give the Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy their Outstanding Basic Science Teaching Award; and the Department of Medicine’s Division of General Internal Medicine received the Outstanding Clinical Science Teaching Award from the Class of 2024.

Other outstanding faculty, mentors, residents were also honored

It would be a difficult task, and a long(er) one, to tell you all you should know about each and every one of this year’s award winners, but you can read more about them in this year’s program. My congratulations also go to:

Wonderful work, you all.

Speaker Jon Burns, Senator Raphael Warnock are State and Federal Legislators of the Year, respectively

While we’re on the theme of awards, tonight I get to present our State and Federal Legislator of the Year Awards at the annual Statewide Faculty Development Conference. We are all gathered here in Jekyll Island this week with our clinical community faculty, educational affiliates, and legislators for an opportunity to show them all how much we value their critical role and invaluable help in educating the next generation. At our awards dinner tonight – and they already know this, so I’m not spoiling any surprises here – we will be privileged to honor our State Legislator of the Year, House Speaker Jon Burns, and our Federal Legislator of the Year Senator Raphael Warnock. Both of them have been longtime supporters of our medical school, but specifically, Speaker Burns helped secure funding for expansion of our class size as well as the new four-year Savannah Campus. He also supported the bill the created our PTIP program, which offers community based preceptors who are not compensated for teaching, tax credits for providing clinical training for our students. Senator Warnock has worked to provide broad support to our medical school and to Augusta University, including $2.1 million for our 3+ Primary Care Pathway, and another $1.1 million to replace some equipment in our Department of Anesthesiology, which certainly benefitted our educational efforts. My thanks to them and to our Government Relations Staff who are always working to advance our important missions with our state and federal leaders.

Drs. Sullivan and David Stepp named Regents’ Professors

Moving away from awards for a minute, but to something equally as important. I’m happy to share that we recently received word that Drs. David Stepp and Jennifer Sullivan (more great news for her!) will be named Regents’ Professors. You’ve already heard about some of Dr. Sullivan’s great accomplishments today and you’ll remember that Dr. Stepp, a federally funded vascular biologist who came to MCG more than two decades ago, was recently named our associate dean for research. The Regents’ Professorship is the highest faculty rank recognized by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents and is only given to faculty at research universities who have a sustained record of outstanding accomplishments beyond what is required for the rank of professor. I believe we can all agree that these two fit those requirements and then some. More than well deserved.

Dr. Ravindra Kolhe named chair of Department of Pathology

I truly believe MCG has some of the best faculty in the world. Working with people like Drs. Stepp and Sullivan, and with all of our Faculty Senate Award winners has been the privilege of my career. Here’s another example of one of the greats: Dr. Ravindra Kolhe, who first came to us in 2007 as a postdoctoral fellow, focused on cancer epigenetics and therapeutics at the Georgia Cancer Center. He went on to complete his residency in anatomic and clinical pathology here in 2012, before we smartly recruited him to the faculty. He was recruited to help spearhead the development of the GEM Lab, which he still leads today. The lab has become the gold standard among academic molecular labs, earning recognition as an NCI-MATCH laboratory for precision medicine cancer trials. And how could we forget the work he and his team did during the pandemic? Working around the clock, literally, to develop a validated PCR-based test for COVID-19 that was then adopted here and across the Southeast. He was lead pathologist on the governor’s Taskforce for COVID-19, managing crucial parts of testing and testing resources. Now he’s helped secure CDC funding to establish a program to help develop new testing methods, technology and applications; and importantly, to help develop and retain a reserve workforce of qualified laboratory personnel, develop a network of clinical laboratories and create an interphase between those labs and public health, ensuring we’re ready when the next pandemic comes.

See what I mean about our amazing faculty? I’m happy to share today that effective tomorrow, Dr. Kolhe is our permanent chair of the Department of Pathology, a role he has graciously filled on an interim basis since 2022. I know he will bring the same type of focus, dedication and heart he brings to everything he does, to this new role as well. I look forward to our continued work together.

My best to you all,

Dean Hess Signature

David C. Hess, MD

Dean, Medical College of Georgia

Upcoming Events

June 21 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium