The UAMS College of Medicine is proud to honor the recipients of our 2020 Dean’s Honor Awards.
Robert Bradsher Jr., M.D.
Professor, Department of Internal Medicine
Bradsher has helped to train and mentor a generation of medical students, internal medicine residents and infectious diseases fellows in his 40 years at UAMS. Among many leadership roles, he served 32 years as director of the Division of Infectious Diseases.
Alan Diekman, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
When College of Medicine students are asked about their best teachers, Diekman’s name comes up often. As director of the Molecules to Cells course, Diekman teaches first-year students and works with other faculty to ensure the students gain a firm grasp of biochemistry, cell biology and genetics – including complex concepts that many medical students nationwide struggle to grasp.
“Most importantly, he has convinced students that understanding molecular and cellular mechanisms is an important part of their medical training,” Department of Physiology and Biophysics Chair Michael Jennings, Ph.D., wrote in a letter of support for Diekman, who has served on the faculty since 2002.
“The word ‘outstanding’ may underestimate the quality of Dr. Diekman’s teaching effort, ability and outcomes,” Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Chair Kevin Raney, Ph.D., wrote in his nomination letter. “He is a superb communicator who treats students respectfully, while maintaining high expectations. Dr. Diekman also sets high standards for his colleagues, thereby improving the quality of teaching of those around him.”
James Graham, M.D., executive associate dean for academic affairs in the college, also wrote in support, noting strong performance by UAMS students in areas of the notoriously difficult United States Medical Licensing Exam Step 1 that are covered in Diekman’s course, as well as improved overall performance on the exam in recent years. Diekman has been instrumental in major curriculum revisions that change how first- and second-year medical students prepare for their clinically focused training.
“I am very honored by this recognition from my colleagues, and I thank them for their past support,” said Diekman. “The privilege of educating our medical students in the complex disciplines of biochemistry, cell biology and genetics is both challenging and fulfilling. My goal is to provide our students with a firm foundation in these disciplines, not just for their sake, but also for that of their future patients.”
Nancy Rusch, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
As a key leader in UAMS’ Translational Research Institute (TRI), Rusch is dedicated to advancing biomedical discoveries into better health care practice. She developed and leads TRI’s unique Health Sciences Innovation and Entrepreneurship (HSIE) Postdoctoral Scholars Training Program with Co-Director Curtis Lowery, M.D.
The competitive program provides postdoctoral fellows with two years of specialized training and mentoring in commercialization and team science as they work to advance their own promising biomedical projects. HSIE is supported by the National Research Service Award (NRSA) Training Core (TL1) component of UAMS’ Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. The program is built on an innovative partnership with the nationally recognized Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
“Dr. Rusch worked tirelessly on the TL1 component of the application and recruited a cadre of nearly 70 UAMS faculty to support the training of postdoctoral fellows,” her nominators wrote. TRI Director Laura James, M.D., and HSIE co-leaders Nancy Gray, Ph.D., president of BioVentures LLC, and Kevin Sexton, M.D., also lauded Rusch’s work to share the program’s concepts with other CTSA institutions as well as throughout UAMS.
“She is the ideal candidate for this award because of the innovative way she brings entrepreneurial education to the postdoctoral learners at UAMS and has built a sustainable educational team as a resource for these learners,” they wrote. “Dr. Rusch is a credit to our research and education community.”
“Our goal is to partner with BioVentures and the Sam M. Walton College of Business to create an environment of biomedical innovation and entrepreneurship at UAMS and across Arkansas,” said Dr. Rusch. “Our biomedical researchers and clinicians conceive of innovations and make important discoveries daily. If we can translate even a fraction of these discoveries into improved clinical products and practices, we can majorly impact health outcomes in the state.”
Charles O’Brien, Ph.D.
Professor, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Department of Internal Medicine
O’Brien has leveraged team science, mentorship of promising new researchers and his own expertise to make key discoveries about the mechanisms of bone formation, bone metabolism and musculoskeletal disease in his 26 years at UAMS.
O’Brien has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 1998 and by the Veterans Administration since 2009. He currently holds a prestigious VA Merit Award and is principal investigator of an $11. 3 million, five-year Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Awarded in 2018, the COBRE established the Center for Musculoskeletal Disease Research at UAMS, which fosters team science and aims to catalyze the careers of new investigators.
O’Brien and his colleagues have used cellular, molecular and genetic approaches to shed light on the signaling pathways in cells that regulate bone mass and strength. In 2011 he was the senior author on a landmark study in Nature Medicinethat highlighted the crucial role of osteocytes in the control of bone remodeling, the process that replaces mature bone tissue with new bone tissue. Alterations in bone remodeling underlie changes in the skeleton that lead to osteoporosis. He has continued to publish extensively in highly respected journals, serve on editorial boards, and contribute to numerous NIH study sections and special-emphasis panels.
“Dr. O’Brien is a national leader in bone research who has brought recognition and respect to the UAMS College of Medicine, while rolling up his sleeves to help colleagues and trainees elevate their research programs across campus,” Nancy Rusch, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, wrote in her nomination letter.
Her words were echoed in strong letters of support from other research leaders at UAMS, including Michael Jennings, Ph.D., professor and chair of Physiology and Biophysics; Stavros Manolagas, M.D., Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, director of Endocrinology and Metabolism and director of the UAMS/VA Center for Osteoporosis and Metabolic Bone Diseases; and Mark Smeltzer, Ph.D., professor of Microbiology and Immunology and director of the UAMS Center for Microbial Pathogenesis and Host Inflammatory Responses.
“I am grateful to Dr. Rusch for nominating me and to my colleagues for their advice and support,” said O’Brien. “Our program is definitely a team effort.”
Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award
William Ventres, M.D., M.A.
Associate Professor, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine
Ventres, who joined UAMS in 2017, is a family physician and medical anthropologist with more than 30 years of clinical experience working with socially and economically marginalized patients. He has been recognized by institutions internationally for his work to develop educational and clinical programs in family medicine as well as for his qualitative research into physician-patient communication and the history of family medicine in the United States.
As holder of the Ben Saltzman Distinguished Chair in Rural Family Medicine at UAMS, Ventres is working to encourage and mentor students and residents who aspire to practice in rural and underserved areas of Arkansas, and to create opportunities for residents around the state. He has been recognized by patients, residents and faculty colleagues for his emphasis on compassionate, holistic care.
“Dr. Ventres has contributed to our institution as a thought leader in family medicine, but more importantly, his contributions have been aiming at bringing humanism, empathy and a sense of social justice to the practice,” wrote his nominator, Erick Messias, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., associate dean for faculty affairs in the College of Medicine.
“I am honored to receive this award,” Ventres said. “To me, humanism in the practice of medicine means deeply seeing the worth and dignity of patients, recognizing them first and foremost as real human beings. Teaching humanism in medicine means applying that same philosophy to students, in hopes they too might bring their hearts and souls to their own work with patients. In hopes, as well, that they might understand the art and the science of medicine not as two distinctly separate entities, but as equal partners in the process of helping patients heal.”
Read more about Dr. Ventres and his work in education around the world in this article about his investiture in the Saltzman Distinguished Chair.
Erika Petersen, M.D., Neurosurgery Residency
Professor Department of Neurosurgery
Petersen has made strides in the Neurosurgery Residency Program since becoming program director in 2015. Her work has enhanced the selection process for identifying the best candidates for the residency, strengthened the learning environment and increased residents’ participation in scholarly work and quality-improvement projects.
“Our department is committed to educating neurosurgeons of the highest caliber to serve the public and the citizens of the state of Arkansas, and Dr. Petersen has become integral in fulfilling that part of our mission,” said Neurosurgery Chair J.D. Day, M.D. “She is a motivated and compassionate mentor, and enjoys the confidence of the residents in helping guide them through both professional development and personal matters.”
Co-Chief Resident Heather Pinckard-Dover, M.D., who is now in her seventh year of training, initiated Petersen’s nomination because of her own experiences with Petersen as a mentor and seeing her address programmatic challenges head-on. “Dr. Petersen has been a great mentor both professionally and personally for several years now,” Pinckard-Dover wrote. “She is an avid listener and always takes residents’ concerns to heart, fervidly working to fix them.”
Petersen brings exceptional clinical and research expertise to her teaching roles. She has served on the faculty as director of Functional and Restorative Neurosurgery and Neuromodulation since 2010. In 2019, she received the first-ever Clinical Excellence Award from the American Society of Pain and Neuroscience. She is the principal investigator on four clinical trials, including a major national study exploring a unique type of spinal cord stimulation for treatment of painful diabetic neuropathy (foot pain).
“I am extremely honored to receive this recognition,” Petersen said. “I am fortunate to collaborate with a committed and talented group of individuals—residents, faculty, fellow program directors and GME officers—who inspire my efforts in support of resident education and development.”
Emily Stotts, Pediatrics Residency
Department of Pediatrics
Pediatrics residents and Pediatrics Residency Program Director Hank Farrar, M.D., enthusiastically agree that Stotts is the ideal recipient for the first-ever Residency Educator Program Coordinator Award. She has served in the post since 2009, and it is common to see residents gathered around Stotts’ desk, chatting about their day.
“She truly goes above and beyond to ensure that our residents have a meaningful and promising residency experience,” wrote the program’s chief residents, Drs. Amy Randall, Preston McCormack and Kip Weaver. “From helping with residents’ tax returns to reviewing their CVs, there is no task that Emily has not been willing to do in order to guide and assist the residents. She has been a confidant and counselor to many a resident, sharing in their grievances, tragedies, successes and worries.”
Stotts’ duties are far-ranging, from the day-to-day management of the College of Medicine’s largest residency program, to coordinating over 150 residency applicant interviews each year, to planning and managing special events for residents. Stotts is also active in the college’s Program Coordinators Organization, which she chaired in 2016-2017.
“Emily is always looking for new and better ways of doing things,” Farrar wrote in his nomination letter, citing initiatives relating to applicant interviews and resident advising. “In all of this, Emily never loses site of our goal to train residents in a professional environment that is organized, challenging and healthy.”
“I am very honored to be receiving the Residency Coordinator of the Year award,” Stotts said. “Although this is the first year for the award, it represents decades of hard work by coordinators in the ever changing field of Graduate Medical Education. The very existence of the award is a win for all coordinators!”
Education Coordinator, COM Curriculum Office
As the Practice of Medicine (POM) II course coordinator, Johnson is responsible for scheduling, troubleshooting and monitoring all activities for a complex and ever-changing course that provides seminal experiences for every second-year student. She ensures that material is planned and provided and serves as a liaison among academic administrators, faculty and students. When students miss a session or do not agree with a grade, Johnson is often the first person they contact.
“Marcie’s ability to field students’ concerns while maintaining a professional and caring attitude is truly remarkable,” said Steven McKee, M.D., who directs the POM III course and nominated Johnson in partnership with Sara Tariq, M.D., Associate Dean for Student Affairs.
“Marcie is a source of energy for the entire team and is quick to lend help when she sees other courses or coordinators in need,” McKee said. “In fact, when the POM I course was without a coordinator, she took on this role without missing a beat. She has been doing the work of multiple people efficiently, while also helping the team keep track of the larger purpose.”
For Johnson, a quote from William Osler, M.D., often called the “Father of Modern Medicine,” expresses this larger purpose. Osler said, “The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.”
“I am proud to be a part of a team that takes medical students and teaches them how to be great physicians through clinical education,” Johnson said. “Our [core content] modules give students the knowledge, but the Practice of Medicine courses take that knowledge and teach students how to be great physicians.”
Department of Psychiatry
As a study coordinator for multiple research investigations in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychiatric Research Institute (PRI), Hodges is responsible for recruiting, phone screening and in-person eligibility screening of participants as well as collecting questionnaires and behavioral, neuroimaging and biological data. She often works with hundreds of potential and selected participants for a single study.
“One of the more delicate aspects of her job is tactfully explaining to people that they are not eligible for a study,” Merideth Addicott, Ph.D., wrote in her nomination letter. “Oftentimes people get upset and will argue with her, but Debbie is wonderful at being sympathetic but firm. Her ability to pleasantly interact with people in challenging situations while maintaining research integrity is something I really admire in Debbie. She always has a positive attitude.”
“Debbie is very detail oriented and follows complicated data collection protocols,” Addicott added. “She has excellent data collection and data management skills, and she is great at spotting and documenting protocol deviations. She has worked with many other faculty and staff members during her 35 years at UAMS, and her skills are in demand!”
“I am so very honored and humbled to have received this award,” Hodges said. “From [Psychiatry chair and PRI founder] Dr. Rick Smith, who gave me the chance 35 years ago to grow in so many different directions, to Dr. Merideth Addicott, who has trusted me with coordinating her various projects, this has definitely been a team accomplishment. When you work with professional and caring people, it makes it easy to love your job.”
JoAnn Conley Cooper
Lead Patient Representative
UAMS Interventional Pain Clinic
In the words of her nominators, Cooper is “the rock that holds the Interventional Pain Service together.” Johnathan Goree, M.D., director of the Chronic Pain Division in the Department of Anesthesiology, emphasized how fortunate the clinic’s patients are to have her in their corner.
“Chronic pain patients have often had multiple negative encounters with health care providers before they reach our clinic,” he wrote. “They have been told their problem can’t be fixed, that their pain is in their head, or that their desires for quality-of-life improvement are impossible. JoAnn is the smiling face and soothing voice our patients first encounter. She has this unique ability to turn a negative patient interaction into a positive one. Our patients LOVE her.”
Bhawna Jha, M.D., praised Cooper for being “always ready to put in more than 200%,” and for her “capacity to maintain calm, grace and kindness at all times.”
Vickie Carlton, R.N., added, “JoAnn cares about the small things and the workload of her coworkers, so she does things to make our work easier. She does this with a smile on her face and never expects anything in return.”
“Caring for others has been a lifelong passion,” said Cooper. “I have worked at UAMS for over 21 years, through various departments including Housekeeping, Orthopaedics, Occupational Therapy, Pre-registration, Neurology and the Pain Service – all with a host of incredible people. Every stage has been rewarding, and I would not change my experience for anything. It has been an amazing honor to work with the Pain Clinic team on behalf of our patients, and I want to thank them for helping me on my journey. I hope and pray the next 21 years will be as fulfilling.”
Department of Anesthesiology
The Department of Anesthesiology has seen many changes and new faces over the past decade, and Holliman has been there to serve department leaders and provide a warm welcome for all.
“Debbie has supported three different department chairs, helping to ensure smooth transitions in leadership and provide continuity across a decade of service,” wrote Jill Mhyre, M.D., who has served as chair since 2018. “Her efforts have been instrumental over the past year in particular, in helping our department recruit, hire, credential and onboard more than 12 faculty members and eight certified registered nurse anesthetists, plus another 20 temporary providers.”
“Debbie recognizes how recruitment and onboarding are crucial for the success of our department and institution, and she believes strongly that a careful process ensures that our new employees will feel welcomed and part of Team UAMS,” Mhyre wrote.
Mhyre said Holliman excels in many other duties such as organization of annual faculty evaluations, departmental promotion and tenure processes, scheduling and more. “We are lucky to work with Debbie and grateful for all that she has given to our department and UAMS.”
“I am honored to have been nominated for this award and even more honored to have received it,” said Holliman. “We have undergone several changes during my tenure in the department. The responsibilities I enjoy the most are recruiting and onboarding. It is important to me to give these candidates and new employees a positive experience and to make them feel welcome during their visits and first days on campus. I also enjoy telling them about my experiences as a lifelong resident of central Arkansas and as a huge Razorbacks fan!”
The College of Medicine also is pleased to honor the inaugural recipients of the Clinical Excellence Awards. The 2020 recipients were announced in December 2019. Read more here.
Physician of the Year
Ashley Ross, M.D.
Associate Professor and Chief of Neonatology
Excellence in Service and Professionalism
Carly Eastin, M.D.
Departments of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics
Excellence in Quality and Safety
Jennifer Laudadio, M.D.
Department of Pathology
Best Consulting Physician
Nithin Karakala, M.D.
Associate Professor, Division of Nephrology
Department of Internal Medicine
Clinical Collaborations and Teamwork
Michael Wilson, M.D., Ph.D.
Departments of Emergency Medicine and Psychiatry
Rising Stars Clinical Faculty (two honorees)
Mary Katherine “Katie” Kimbrough, M.D.
Associate Professor, Division of Trauma and Critical Care
Department of Surgery
André Wineland, M.D.
Assistant Professor, Division of Pediatric Otolaryngology
Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery
Faculty Promotions & Tenure
The College of Medicine congratulates faculty receiving promotion and tenure in 2020. A record 76 faculty members requested promotion in academic rank, and 100% of the requests were approved, a first since the college began tracking the metrics several years ago.