Most Valuable Players — Fall 2020
Ten recipients were recognized in individual Zoom sessions in late November and early December 2020. The MVPs were joined by Dr. Westfall, Sara Windsor, who serves as COM Director of Strategic Initiatives and Engagement, their nominators, colleagues and sometimes even family members.
“The MVP award recognizes extraordinary team members who are making a real difference in the lives of people around them,” said Dr. Westfall. “It is significant that colleagues have so appreciated these individuals that they took the time to nominate them and eloquently explain what makes them so special.”
“Our MVPs are the staff members, faculty and residents who go above and beyond,” Ms. Windsor said. “We are recognizing those who inspire us. MVPs love what they do and love helping others find their own strengths. MVPs exemplify the qualities of a great teammate.”
The fall 2020 honorees, along with comments shared by their nominators are listed below.
Michael Blackburn, B.S.
Research Associate III, Pediatrics/Developmental Nutrition
Nominated by Sean Adams, Ph.D., Former Director Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center
“Mike is one of those special staff members who tackles his work with vigor, while also helping others at every turn. It is not unusual to see him take time out of his day to train students, other staff and even faculty on the techniques and fine art of molecular biology. He also looks well beyond day-to-day tasks to consider deeply the scientific questions at hand plus how the research can impact children’s health.
Mike is a stellar team member, always on time and willing to keep a flexible schedule to tackle studies that require “off hours” attention. In addition to getting his own work done, I have seen him on many occasions help other lab groups with experiments, training, and even application of his excellent proofreading skills to others’ papers and grants. These “extra” duties are always completed with a smile and great sense of humor that are infectious to everyone. His scientific curiosity complements his mastery of laboratory techniques, and he often discusses how the work being done in the lab and at ACNC can more broadly help kids and their health.”
Joana Mack, M.D.
Assistant Professor, Pediatric Hematology/Oncology
Nominated by Mary Elizabeth Littrell, M.D., Fellow
“Dr. Mack pushes EVERYONE to realize their full potential. She is the definition of motivation and support.
I am unsure where Dr. Mack finds the time to do everything she does. In addition to being an attending in the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Department, she is the fellowship coordinator, the education coordinator for medical students and residents, member of the bleeding disorder team, member of the vascular anomalies team, mother to two amazing little girls, wife to a physician and mentor to everyone who crosses her path. I am the second year fellow and appreciate the time/effort she pours into me on a daily basis. For example, she pushed me to develop my fellow research project ahead of schedule. Dr. Mack supported my ideas, provided a framework to develop a professional mentor team, encouraged me daily and pushed even when I slacked off.
In addition to her mentoring abilities, she is kind and caring. The first year of hem/onc fellowship required multiple weeks of call. Dr. Mack would regularly surprise me with Chick-fil-A breakfast to ensure I started the day with proper nutrition. She emphasizes well-being of all learners and colleagues. Dr. Mack consistently checked in on me, asked how I was doing and checked on me when I was overwhelmed. For example, after a long stretch of several weeks of call, Dr. Mack realized my tank was empty. She sensed that I was not myself and approached me multiple times to ask how things were going. Despite reassuring her that everything was fine, her gut instinct told her differently. She ultimately gave me a few days off of service to collect myself and put me in touch with someone to help me get back on track. I am forever indebted to Dr. Mack for her mentorship. I sincerely hope to follow in her footsteps and pay it forward.”
Renee McGraw, M.D.
Associate Professor, Obstetrics and Gynecology
Nominated by Sushma Bhusal, M.D., Assistant Professor, Nephrology
“I would like to nominate Dr. Renee McGraw from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology for going above and beyond and showing extraordinary compassion.
I have known Dr. McGraw since 2017 when she took care of me during my pregnancy and helped deliver my second son. She was exceptional then and helped me once again during an unexpected serious medical condition that was discovered during a scheduled office visit with her earlier this year. During this experience, Dr. McGraw personally drove me from her off-campus clinic to the UAMS Emergency Department for further evaluation. She made sure I was settled in and in good hands before returning to her own clinic. I was truly overwhelmed by such kindness and compassion.”
Priya Mendiratta, M.D., M.P.H.
Nominated by Joni Pharis, GME Program Coordinator
“Dr. Mendiratta puts her abundance of energy to work doing for others and gives so much of herself.
Dr. Mendiratta goes all out for her patients whether they are in-patient, out-patient or in the nursing home. She spends many late evenings at the nursing home battling Covid to keep those medically fragile loved ones safe. She shows the same compassion and caring for the med students, residents and fellows. She is always willing to teach, mentor them along, as well as write that referral letter. She is also the first one to enthusiastically say, “I’ll bring cupcakes” or “How much do you need for that?” Her most recent accomplishment is procuring plastic desk shields for our front desk ladies at the TLLC clinic to offer them more protection. She did this out of her own pocket. She is also working with her local elementary school to offer suggestions on what is needed and must be considered to safely return our children and teachers to the classroom. She encouraged her children to do a mask campaign, which resulted in 600 masks being donated to UAMS. The world is a better place with Priya Mendiratta.”
Tamara Perry, M.D.
Professor, Pediatric Allergy and Immunology
Nominated by Jessica Turner, Research Coordinator
“She goes above and beyond to make sure our department is cohesive. She is constantly working to move the needle in pediatric research. Her leadership encourages the doctors, researchers, and other professionals in our group to set and achieve new personal goals.
“She has helped me in the professional and personal setting. She has set out personal time inside and outside of work to be my mentor in any capacity that is needed. She teaches me what a strong, successful, professional woman does in day to day tasks, and how to handle stressful situations in a diplomatic manner. She has allowed me to take the lead in many of her research projects, allowing me to feel needed, valued and confident in my own abilities. With her direction, she has helped facilitate new vision for my success. I hope to become even half the physician and researcher that she is one day.”
Roopa Ram, M.D.
Associate Professor, Radiology
Nominated by Nayanatara Swamy, M.D., Resident
“Dr. Roopa always goes above and beyond to help residents. She is stepping up as Program Director of our department at the end of this year.
Dr. Roopa gives personal time to the radiology residents any time we approach her – this has been my consistent experience during the last 3 years of my residency. She maintains a congenial atmosphere in the reading room during the weekday working hours and during call. She is cheerful and has a smile for everyone. She encourages us residents to step out for 10-minute breaks (to visit the UAMS fountain at PARKING 1) during long weekend call hours – to freshen our minds from non-stop in-patient and ER dictations. If she is aware it is a resident’s birthday, she gets everyone in the room cupcakes to celebrate!! She did this last week too. She is an awesome person, who is a great mentor and great source of inspiration.”
Denise Thomas, B.S.
Student Clerkship Coordinator, Obstetrics and Gynecology
Nominated by Lindsey Sward, M.D., Assistant Professor
“Denise has gone above and beyond for medical students, for our department, and for the University since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Denise Thomas is the clerkship coordinator for the Ob/Gyn junior medical student clerkship. She is a wonderful coordinator, and students love her. She has not only continued her excellent work in this role, but she has also taken on the additional work of moving all of our Ob/Gyn didactic sessions to an online format. Not only that, but she has been instrumental in helping with didactic sessions for a new class of medical students – the upcoming M3 students. She also continues to excel in her role as an administrative assistant to me and to other faculty in our department AND works screening stations almost daily.”
Misty Virmani, M.D.
Assistant Professor, Pediatrics
Nominated by Stephanie Korff, M.D., Assistant Professor
“Dr. Virmani exemplifies what it means to be an amazing physician, spouse, parent, and friend.”
“Dr. Virmani is always willing to put her patients first, even if that means putting in extra hours or bearing the emotional burden for a family. She is a full time ICU attending that is personable with the families she interacts with and makes their infant a priority. In her additional responsibilities, she has furthered her career in breastfeeding medicine and has become a leader in this field. She is also able to be there for her colleagues and friends 110% of the time. Dr. Virmani is willing to help her co-workers when help is desperately needed. She is aware of the struggles or hardships others are going through, and is able to support them with being available for clinical responsibilities or providing small notes of encouragement. In her spare time outside of clinical duties, she balances time as a wife and mother of three, while somehow also pulling off amazing DIY projects, including making Halloween costumes for the Division of Neonatology.”
Keyur Vyas, M.D.
Associate Professor, Internal Medicine
Nominated by James Marsh, M.D., Distinguished Professor and Past Chair
“Exceptional leadership and bearing much of the load of the UAMS response to COVID-19 …
Dr. Vyas is an Associate Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Internal Medicine. He is also the Internal Medicine Residency Program Director. He does those jobs very well. However, where his work as a team player and team leader has been exceptional is in his role as Director of Infection Control and Prevention for UAMS. He is our leading medical expert on infection control for COVID-19. He is ‘the UAMS Tony Fauci, M.D.’
Dr. Vyas has been working literally day and night, often seven days a week to wisely guide UAMS preparations for, and management of the Covid 19 pandemic. He makes great contributions at the level of infection prevention and control policy and procedures for UAMS. His expertise is invaluable, and he works daily with other hospital leaders on management strategies as well as plan implementations. Dr. Vyas is one who often prefers to work quietly in the background, but has repeatedly stepped up to be part of the UAMS public face on our approach to the pandemic. His thoughtful, well-reasoned and medically sound approach has provided calm in the setting of what could be chaos.
And then there is the hard work, one patient at a time. UAMS drive-through screening detects 30-50 people every day who test COVID-19 positive. These are all new duties since March 1. People must be informed, and counseled as soon as results are available, seven days a week. These are often not easy phone calls to make. Dr. Vyas works on these calls into the evenings and weekends, since March, with no end in sight. It is not correct to say that he works tirelessly; Dr. Vyas does get tired. And he keeps going. He certainly qualifies as an extraordinary Most Valuable Player for our team at UAMS.”
Jennifer White, B.S.N.
Program Manager, COM Graduate Medical Education
Nominated by Leigh Austin, Program Coordinator
“Over the past four months, UAMS Residency and Fellowships programs have undergone tremendous challenges and uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the middle of this, we’ve also completed a successful Match season, supplemental Matches, advancement and onboarding, created virtual orientation schedules and pioneered virtual interview methods. At the same time, at least half of these programs have had residents and fellows out on quarantine for COVID-19 contact and infections, or their people have been moved to other services to cover for patient surges. Schedules were (and continue to be) rearranged daily. To sum it up, our group of 40+ residency and fellowship coordinators have needed a tremendous amount of support, wisdom, guidance and tenacity to keep our programs running. This would have been impossible without the help of Jennifer White, GME Program Manager.
She is our touchstone in the GME office and works tirelessly to make sure we have our MANY questions and concerns addressed by administration. She hosts weekly sessions with coordinators to discuss GME office updates and work through problems. She and the GME staff recently created a very effective and efficient online GME orientation and added fun activities that proved to be popular with the new trainees. Her passion project is to create a manual for all new coordinators to introduce them how to “run” a fellowship or residency according to ACGME and specialty board standards. UAMS has 26 residencies and 37 fellowships, so that’s a ton of information to assimilate! All of our coordinators know they can call her with any question or challenge and she will make sure we find a solution. Jennifer celebrates our accomplishments and feels our disappointments with us.
She has been with UAMS for many years, and was a coordinator with Anesthesiology for a big chunk of that time. Not many people understand what a coordinator’s role is; we don’t just send emails and order department lunches (although we don’t do that too much now!) We are intricately enmeshed in our programs, acting as counselors for our trainees and keeping all of the plates spinning so our attending physicians can function academically. Sometimes, the most important person you need is someone who just gets what it’s like to be in your shoes, a validation of your worth and effort. For us, that person is Jennifer. Thank you!”
Summer 2020 MVP
The College of Medicine announced the first Most Valuable Player (MVP) in June 2020.
John Pagteilan, M.D.
Resident, General Surgery
Nominated by Tamara Osborn, M.D., General Surgery Resident
“He will show up early with a smile, always stays late to help others, and is well-known for being a great person. Johnny is one of the only residents I’ve worked with who will take on the intern’s duties to help them get done faster. He has also been known to take the intern’s pager to give them part of the afternoon off when he knows they usually work some of the longest hours.”