2020 Penn Medicine Awards of Excellence
October 27, 2020
I take great pride in announcing this year's recipients of the Penn Medicine Awards of Excellence. The distinguished awardees exemplify our profession's highest values of scholarship, teaching, innovation, commitment to service, leadership, professionalism and dedication to patient care. They epitomize the preeminence and impact we all strive to achieve. The awardees range from those at the beginning of their highly promising careers to those whose distinguished work has spanned decades.
Each recipient was chosen by a committee of distinguished faculty from the Perelman School of Medicine or the University of Pennsylvania. The contributions of these clinicians and scientists exemplify the outstanding quality of patient care, mentoring, research, and teaching of our world-class faculty.
I am extremely proud to honor these faculty for their achievements. Please join me in extending our sincere congratulations to the following 2020 award recipients:
- Ben E. Black, PhD, Eldridge Reeves Johnson Foundation Professor of Biochemistry & Biophysics, is the recipient of this year’s Stanley N. Cohen Biomedical Research Award. Dr. Black’s research centers on understanding a major question in genetics: what defines human centromeres, the chromosomal loci that confer genetic stability at cell division? Among the questions being explored by his lab are how genetic inheritance actually works; how epigenetic information was transmitted to us from our parents; can building new artificial chromosomes help us understand how natural chromosomes work; and how are the key enzymes protecting the integrity of our genome specifically and potently activated by potential catastrophes like DNA beaks or chromosome misattachment to the mitotic spindle. In addition to his work to advance technologies for building synthetic chromosomes for applications in research and medicine, an exciting new area of interest to emerge in recent years has been with the enzyme PARP-1: a key component for signaling DNA damage and an important clinical target for small molecule inhibition. Dr. Black serves as Co-Director of the newly established Penn Center for Genome Integrity (PCGI), whose mission is to understand the molecular basis of diseases that arise from structural aberrations to the human genome. Noting his seminal contributions as an international leader in his area of research, his nominators said of him, “What has allowed Ben to excel is his unique blend of scientific knowledge in the area, exceptional creativity and combination of complimentary experimental expertise in biophysics and cell biology thus allowing him to use truly innovative approaches and challenge traditional paradigms in the field.”
- Douglas H. Smith, MD, Robert A. Groff Endowed Professor of Research and Teaching in Neurosurgery, is the recipient of this year’s William Osler Patient Oriented Research Award. Dr. Smith is the foremost authority on diffuse axonal injury (DAI) as the unifying hypothesis behind the short- and long-term consequences of concussion. After realizing early in his career that concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), was a much more serious event than broadly appreciated, Dr. Smith and his team have used computer biomechanical modeling, in vitro and in vivo testing in parallel with seminal human studies to elucidate mechanisms of concussion. The acute changes characterized by the Smith group have provided a pathway to develop novel diagnostic tools, and he has played a leadership role in demonstrating that DAI can trigger long-term neurodegeneration that can persist for decades after injury. As the foremost expert in concussion and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Dr. Smith was recently invited to serve as a founding member of the NFL’s Scientific Advisory Board, and is also the Scientific Director of the Big 10/Ivy League’s consortium on concussion. The U. S. State Department chose him to lead an investigation into neurological deficits induced in members of the embassy in Havana, which led to the development of diagnostic criteria for a newly discovered disorder, “Havana Syndrome.” He received the Dorothy Russell medal, the highest honor conveyed by the British Neuropathological Society for his seminal contributions towards understanding the neuropathologies of TBI. A colleague noted, “Overall, Dr. Smith and his group have brought science to a major health concern that has been neglected and poorly understood; his work will change how we treat this problem in deep and fundamental ways.”
- Peter P. Reese, MD, MSCE, Associate Professor of Medicine and of Epidemiology, is this year’s recipient of the Samuel Martin Health Evaluation Sciences Research Award. Dr. Reese is an internationally-recognized leader in the areas of transplantation and nephrology. His research paved the way for the transplant field to make use of the thousands of discarded organs from donors infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV). Dr. Reese’s team recognized that new direct-acting antiviral medications created opportunities to offer these organs from deceased opioid epidemic victims to well-informed patients without HCV. His trials in the areas of kidney (THINKER), heart, and lung transplantation designed with Penn colleagues led to outstanding results, including 100% HCV cure rates, good allograft function, and manageable side effects. Through his collaboration with French researchers, Dr. Reese also paved the way for the use of organs from older and comorbid donors. He developed a widely-cited ethical model of how centers should separate the interests of donors and transplant candidates and focus on donors with risk factors for kidney disease. He also made important contributions to health behavior change in transplantation and nephrology in the area of medication non-adherence. A winner of multiple awards, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, in 2020, he and his team received the Innovation Award from the American Society of Transplantation for the THINKER trial. In summary, a colleague said, “Dr. Peter Reese is a superlative researcher with the rare ability to rapidly translate scientific insights into tangible benefits for patient care and better public policy.”
- Donita C. Brady, PhD, Presidential Termed Assistant Professor of Cancer Biology, is the recipient of this year’s Michael S. Brown New Investigator Research Award. Dr. Brady’s laboratory has been responsible for major conceptual advances in an entirely new field of oncogenic signaling that she herself helped to found. Her innovative research program centers on answering fundamental biological questions regarding the critical role played by metals, particularly copper (Cu), in oncogenic signaling and cancer biology. Her work involves a new paradigm in nutrient sensing and protein regulation in which redox-active metals control kinase activity, termed metalloallostery. Specifically, the focal point of her research is the intersection of kinase signaling and Cu homeostasis, and seeks to define the mechanistic regulating Cu-dependent kinases in order to target them via drug repurposing or development in the context of cancer. Her highly innovative and conceptually groundbreaking research has established her as a leader in her field as evidenced by her numerous publications in high impact journals, her substantial extramural funding, her multiple invited talks, and the number of significant honors awarded to her. In addition, she co-founded Merlon, Inc. to enable targeting Cu-dependent activation of MEK1/2 and translate her findings to the clinic. Acknowledging her as an exemplary colleague and academic citizen of PSOM, her nominator said of her, “Donita is a treasured member of the Department of Cancer Biology, the AFCRI, the Abramson Cancer Center, and the Perelman School of Medicine, whom we are thrilled to count as one of our own.”
- Meeta Prasad Kerlin, MD, MSCE, Assistant Professor of Medicine, is the recipient of this year’s Marjorie A. Bowman New Investigator Research Award. Dr. Kerlin is internationally recognized as the world’s leading authority on how intensive care (ICU) physicians (“intensivists”) contribute to critically ill patients’ outcomes. Her primary research interests include optimizing the contribution of the ICU organization to outcomes of critical illness, implementation science with a focus on critical care interventions, and understanding the role of the various clinicians involved in the care of ICU patients in quality of care and outcomes. Her work uses the tools of implementation science to reduce the knowledge-practice gap in ICUs in order to achieve the most cost-effective outcomes for our nation’s sickest patients. She has successfully led complex secondary data analyses, randomized trials, experimental implementation studies, systematic reviews, survey studies, and qualitative studies. She led the only randomized clinical trial to evaluate the impact of intensivist staffing during nighttime hours on resource utilization and patient mortality. She also proved the more specific role of intensivists in the outcomes of patients who undergo mechanical ventilation. Dr. Kerlin has a diverse and exemplary publication record, a bevy of research awards, and ongoing NIH funding since 2013, including two current R01s. A colleague said of her, “She is an exemplary physician and clinical educator, a uniquely talented research mentor, and as good a role model as Penn has for women physician-scientists. I honestly cannot think of anyone who better embodies all of the virtues this award is designed to honor.”
- Neil D. Romberg, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and the Jeffrey Modell Endowed Chair of Pediatric Immunology Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is the recipient of this year’s Lady Barbara Colyton Prize for Autoimmune Research. Dr. Romberg’s research is born out of the clinical observation that patients with primary immune disorders also develop inflammatory diseases. He has leveraged this observation to dissect the immunologic pathways that drive human autoimmunity. His work focuses on how molecular interactions between different follicular cell types (notably T cells, B cells and antigen-presenting cells) influence germinal center formation and function. He has developed several effector T-cell/B-cell and effector T-cell/regulatory T-cell/B-cell co-culture methods using primary human cells permitting additional manipulation including gene over-expression, knockdown and modeling patient mutations via genetic editing. More recently he has invested time and resources with collaborators across campus to develop competencies in modern high-dimensional single-cell phenotyping (CyTOF, CITE-seq) and epigenetic analyses (chromosomal confirmation capture, ATAC-seq). One of his key contributions is applying these powerful new technologies to rare patients’ samples to discover new human immunology pathways that drive immunologic disease. Although relatively new to the faculty, his impressive program at CHOP and Penn has identified three new inborn errors of immunity, placing him in the top 1% of all gene sleuths in immunology. His work bridges patient care and translational research, with the goal of improving patient outcomes with personalized therapies. Although based in pediatrics, the research crosses age groups, diseases and even cell types. A colleague noted “He has made innovative and critical contributions to the field of human immune dysregulation and autoimmunity.”
- David C. Metz, MBBCh, Professor of Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, is this year’s Louis Duhring Outstanding Clinical Specialist Award recipient. Dr. Metz’s areas of expertise include esophageal diseases (EoE, GERD, achalasia), gastric diseases (H. Pylori infection, PUD, NSAID gastropathy) and neuroendocrine tumors-NETs. For the latter he is nationally and internationally recognized, has among the largest practices in the country, and recently served as the President of the North American Neuroendocrine Tumor Society (NANETS). Dr. Metz is an invaluable canonical clinician who integrates pathophysiology, diagnosis and management in patient care. He has long been the go-to physician for unusual “orphan” GI diseases such as short gut, gastroparesis, sclerosing mesenteritis and eosinophilic gastritides. A superb clinical investigator, he is principal investigator on numerous clinical grants, resulting in widely-cited publications in leading journals. Dr. Metz is an expert endoscopist for esophageal, gastric and duodenal diseases, interpreter of esophageal manometric tests, and an amazing analyst of radiologic tests. A powerhouse in his field, he has been recognized annually as a Philadelphia “Top Doc” for 25 years, and his worldwide referral practice is testimony to his wealth of knowledge and expert care. In addition, he is a superb teacher and mentor, able to integrate theory and practice with great ease. His clinical research mentees, including many women and physicians from underrepresented groups, now practice at peer institutions across the country. As one colleague said of him, “Dr. Metz fairly represents the increasingly rare epitome of the Academic Medicine Triple Threat: excellence as a master clinician, teacher and investigator.”
- Louis M. DeStefano, MD, Clinical Associate of Family Medicine and Community Health and Lead Physician, Penn Medicine Valley Forge, is the recipient of this year’s Sylvan Eisman Outstanding Primary Care Physician Award. For more than 20 of his 33 year career, Dr. DeStefano has been one of the most respected primary care physicians in a busy Penn Medicine practice. He portrays all the qualities of an exemplary primary care physician, including outstanding clinical and diagnostic acumen, and the ability to provide care in a warm, compassionate and “patient centered” manner to a broad range of patients, always placing his patients’ needs above everything else. They consistently give him glowing reviews, such as “Dr. DeStefano is unsurpassed as a primary care physician—I’ve never come across anyone better.” and “I travel to see him even with the location being over 45 minutes away. I would never consider any other physician with my overall health.” He is described as a physician and colleague who exudes warmth and confidence in all his interactions, whether that be with other providers, staff, or his patients. Dr. DeStefano was the first physician chosen by Penn Medicine for the large, multi-specialty, clinical and teaching facility in Valley Forge, and the one selected to lead the implementation plans. He finds time to listen to and support other physicians in the practice, and to host Penn medical and nursing students who uniformly report outstanding learning experiences. A colleague said, “He is a model and outstanding physician in the important field of primary care medicine.”
- Christopher J. Miller, MD, Associate Professor of Dermatology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, is the recipient of the Luigi Mastroianni Clinical Innovator Award. Malignant melanoma has traditionally been treated with excision based on the clinical appearance of the tumor, but more than 10% of patients with poorly-defined melanomas on the head, neck, hands, and feet had incomplete excisions and required numerous surgeries. Dr. Miller recognized that we could assure complete melanoma removal and reduce the number of surgeries by treating specialty site melanomas with Mohs micrographic surgery and a relatively new immunohistochemical stain that highlights melanoma cells on frozen sections. This precise technique allows same-day excision, microscopic margin examination, and reconstruction with less than a 1% chance that the melanoma will recur. His team first published their technique and results in a landmark 2015 article, and they have since published a 0.3% long-term local recurrence rate in 1948 melanoma patient treated at Penn. Compared to the 10% historical rate of local recurrence after conventional excision, the high cure rates after Mohs micrographic surgery have spared hundreds of Penn patients unnecessary surgeries. Dr. Miller is at the forefront in the field of Mohs and reconstructive surgery, and he is the founder and Director of the highly-regarded Penn Dermatology Oncology Center. A colleague said, “I am certain that his efforts and innovations will ultimately help tens of thousands or more patients.”
- Ronald B. Barg, MD, Penn Primary Care/Clinical Care Associates physician, is the recipient of the 2020 Alfred Stengel Health System Champion Award. After joining Clinical Care Associates in 1995, Dr. Barg was instrumental in reorganizing this primary care physician network to increase its efficiency and bring financial stability. He was named Executive Director in 2005, a position which he held until June 30th, 2020, when he stepped down to return to clinical practice. Under his leadership, Clinical Care Associates grew to over 300 physicians across the region, including both primary care and multiple specialties. In 2017, Dr. Barg was named as inaugural medical director to the Primary Care Service Line, to help create strategy and coordination for over 500 primary care practitioners across general internal medicine, family medicine, Penn Primary Care, and six hospitals. With his launch of the Service Line, he was able to engage stakeholders across Penn Medicine and successfully weave together a common framework and structure to help integrate, align and strengthen Penn Medicine’s primary care services, building a strong organizational culture and driving improvements in quality, operations, and finance. In particular, he oversaw a major improvement in patient experience scores over the past several years that have set a high watermark for the organization. He has also been instrumental in promoting primary care in the Perelman School of Medicine curriculum. His nominators said of his work, “This legacy will be foundational to our success in building the premiere integrated health system in this country.”
- Carol M. Chou, MD, Professor of Clinical Medicine, is the recipient of this year’s Duncan Van Dusen Professionalism Award for Faculty. Dr. Chou is a nationally recognized expert in the field of relationship-centered healthcare communication, and her fundamental philosophy and approach to patient care and teaching is rooted in humanistic care. She holds a longstanding leadership position with the Academy on Communication in Healthcare, whose vision describes a health care system where all patients and providers feel valued, are treated equitably and with respect and compassion, and are actively engaged in healthcare decisions. Since her fellowship training at the Academy, she has made it her life’s work to incorporate principles of relationship-centered care into daily behaviors, actions, and teachings. Dr. Chou applies this approach to her three teaching domains—clinical teaching of residents and students, serving as a personal coach for communication and professionalism, and didactic teaching in communication. In the medical student elective, “The Healer’s Art” she aims to instill those same values of respect for self and for others in her students. In her workshops on communication and professionalism topics, and as Co-director of the Communication Curriculum for the Internal Medicine Residency Program, she creates dialogue and listens carefully to explore, honor, and respect her learners’ experiences. Dr. Chou has won multiple awards recognizing her professionalism, and as one colleague said of her, “She is a role model for how physicians should interact with patients, and how we should interact with each other.”
- Matthew D. Weitzman, PhD, Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, is the recipient of this year’s Arthur Asbury Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award. Dr. Weitzman has made wide-ranging contributions foundational to the fields of virology and DNA repair and has produced a number of highly successful trainees. One of his most significant contributions to the professional development of other faculty members has been his initiation of the Grant Proposal Success (GPS) groups. He began the first group in 2013 in The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Pathology department, and in subsequent years expanded this model throughout CHOP and PSOM. The GPS approach creates a flexible, community-based learning experience to teach participants effective grant-writing skills through peer review and cascading mentorship, applying structure and best practices. To date, over 250 trainees and Penn faculty have been involved in these groups, including the Richards Society for GPS, begun in 2017 for tenure-track junior faculty from PSOM. Assistant professors from various departments across PSOM attend these weekly meetings, and members credit Dr. Weitzman’s guidance and mentorship with the funding of previously unsuccessful grant proposals. As one member of the Richards GPS said, “Beyond his commitment to reviewing each of our grants individually and attending weekly meetings, Dr. Weitzman has set a tone for providing and receiving critical feedback, sharing innovative ideas, and setting ambitious research goals. He has also instilled in each of us how to be strategic in our grant development, how to push each other as colleagues, and to focus on the passion for science that has drawn each of us to Penn.”
- Sunny Shin, PhD, Associate Professor of Microbiology, is the recipient of the Michael P. Nusbaum Graduate Student Mentoring Award. Dr. Shin’s commitment to supporting the health and happiness of her mentees as well as their academic and professional success makes her an exceptional role model. Her dedication to mentoring and guiding students in reaching their scholarly potential exemplifies the type of scientist and mentor that Mikey Nusbaum represents. Dr. Shin’s research is focused on understanding mechanisms of immune defense against bacterial pathogens and in turn, how these pathogens subvert host immunity to cause disease. She is a Penn Fellow, and she has received several honors, including the Burroughs-Wellcome Fund Investigator in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Diseases Award and the Penn Medicine Michael S. Brown New Investigator Award. Dr. Shin is highly committed to mentoring the next generation of scientists and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in academia and science. She mentors postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduate students. Dr. Shin also serves as Vice-Chair of the Cellular and Molecular Biology Graduate Group’s Microbiology, Virology, and Parasitology Program and directs or teaches in several graduate and medical courses.
- Autumn Fiester, PhD, Associate Professor in the Division of Medical Ethics in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, and Judy A. Shea, PhD, Professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine in the Department of Medicine, are recipients of the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, the University’s highest teaching honor.
- Dr. Fiester is Associate Chair for Education & Training in the Division of Medical Ethics. She also serves in the role of Academic Management Consultant for the School of Arts and Sciences, working with academic units on strategic vision, improved communication, mediation, and organizational development. Dr. Fiester is the Executive Director of the Penn Program in Clinical Conflict Management, which promotes conflict resolution training for clinical providers and clinical ethics consultants. She is author of over 90 publications in the areas of clinical ethics, clinical conflict management, LGBT bioethics, and medical ethics education. She has conducted over 100 workshops in conflict management both locally and nationally.
- Dr. Shea is Associate Dean of Medical Education Research and co-Director of the Masters of Science in Health Policy Research. She serves duals roles, working with faculty and fellows to design and evaluate research projects, and directing the evaluation of the medical school curriculum and faculty. Much of her work focuses on evaluating the psychometric properties of curriculum evaluation tools and developing assessment methods. She teaches and mentors trainees regularly on educational methodology and measurement principles. She has published over 300 peer-reviewed articles, many with junior colleagues.
- Divya K. Shah, MD, MME, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, is the recipient of the Leonard Berwick Memorial Teaching Award. Dr. Shah taught middle school math and science before completing medical school at Columbia University, residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan and fellowship in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. As a junior faculty member, she obtained a master’s degree in medical education in 2014 at the University of Iowa. Dr. Shah has directed the second-year Reproduction course at PSOM since 2017, when she undertook a significant curricular redesign in response to student feedback with substantial improvements in the course ranking in subsequent years. She was appointed Director of Undergraduate Medical Education in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2018, and recently revised the clinical clerkship curriculum in obstetrics and gynecology to align clinical teaching with reproductive physiology using a flipped classroom approach that combines virtual learning resources with formal small group Team Based Learning sessions. Dr. Shah’s teaching efforts have been consistently recognized with medical student and resident teaching awards at each stage of her career. A medical student stated that, “Dr. Shah directs the outstanding Module 2 Reproductive course. She is an excellent teacher, is committed to students, implements feedback and gets students excited about OB-GYN! The course runs like a well-oiled machine. She organizes and delivers the material in a digestible and engaging way. I came away from the course so interested in OB-GYN surgery that I emailed Dr. Shah the following summer to shadow.”
- Margaret J. Baylson, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Clinical Family Medicine, is the recipient of the Robert Dunning Dripps Memorial Award for Excellence in Graduate Medical Education. The award recognizes her exemplary leadership, teaching skills and commitment to fostering learning and growth in all the trainees with whom she has worked. Dr. Baylson, who is Chief of Family Medicine at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center and president-elect of the medical staff at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, has served as residency program director since 2010. During her tenure, the residency program has increased in size by fifty percent, at first through a HRSA grant and then through state funding for residency expansion. Dr. Baylson is the immediate past chair of the Pennsylvania Assembly of Program Directors and held a seat on the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians. She completed her medical school training at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University and her residency training in family medicine here at Penn in the department of family medicine and community health. Dr. Baylson obtained her master’s in public health at the University of Pennsylvania, where she conducted qualitative research related to motivational interviewing and IUD provision. As one of her residents commented, “Dr. Baylson exhibits exemplary leadership and teaching skills in ways that foster learning and growth in all the trainees with whom she has worked. Furthermore, Dr. Baylson is forward-thinking and takes a hands-on approach to improving our residency.”
- Yale Cohen, PhD, Professor of Otorhinolaryngology with secondary appointments in Neuroscience and Bioengineering, is the recipient of the Jane M. Glick Graduate Student Teaching Award. Dr. Cohen’s commitment to educating and training the next generation of scientists exemplifies the type of scientist and educator that Jane Glick represented. His students value his highly engaging and supportive approach to teaching, praising his enthusiasm, energy, honesty, and compassion. Dr. Cohen received his PhD in Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania and then conducted post-doctoral work at Stanford University and Caltech. He joined the Dartmouth College faculty in 1999 and then returned to Penn in 2009, where he is now a Professor in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology. His laboratory examines the neural bases of auditory perception and cognition. He is the PI of a T32 training grant from the NIDCD-NIH that trains students on computational and experimental methodologies in auditory neuroscience. Additionally, he is the Chair of the Bioengineering Graduate Group, the Chair of the IACUC, and the Director of the Office of Animal Welfare.