Celebrating Heistad’s impact through mentorship

In his remarks, Michael Welsh, MD, chair of the committee for the Daryl and Nancy Granner Distinguished Mentor Award, joked that Donald Heistad, MD, professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, was “the only two-time winner” of the award. First announced in February 2020, Heistad was originally set to be honored later that year, as was typical with such awards in the past. The novel coronavirus forced a change in that plan and the award and its ceremony was put on hold till a smaller number of family and friends could gather safely and pay proper tribute. Thus, Heistad could technically be seen as both the 2020 and the 2021 award winner.

Before Welsh made his opening remarks, the event began with a welcome from Brooks Jackson, MD, MBA, UI vice president for medical affairs and the Tyrone D. Artz Dean of the Carver College of Medicine. Jackson thanked everyone who had patiently waited for this well-deserved day to arrive, whether they were watching via livestream or were in the Prem Sahai Auditorium in person. He described the career trajectory of Heistad and his generosity, humility, and commitment to excellence.

Welsh then introduced each of the three speakers who would offer tributes and testimony to the direct impact Heistad had on their lives. Three of the letters in support of Heistad’s nomination came from these speakers. Tzung Hsiai, MD, PhD, is now a professor of bioengineering and medicine at University of California Los Angeles, but came to Iowa early in his career specifically to work with Heistad and other leaders in cardiovascular medicine. He said that Heistad taught him the importance of teamwork and integrity and how no one individual was more important than sound and reproducible science. Hsiai was followed by Joseph Hill, MD, PhD, professor of internal medicine at University of Texas Southwestern. Hill said that as much as he learned about science, he also learned how to be a better person and a better father from Heistad’s example and advice. Finally, Neal Weintraub, MD, professor of medicine and chief of cardiology at Augusta University, said that the model that Heistad set during his training is what he followed when he built a clinical and research program. Heistad’s example, he said, continues to influence new classes of trainees and faculty every year.

The Distinguished Mentor Lecture, though delivered via Zoom, was a familiar face to many in the room. David Skorton, MD, is the current president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), but for many years was a cardiologist right alongside Heistad in the department before becoming president of the University of Iowa, president of Cornell University, and secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. After echoing many of the sentiments expressed by others that afternoon and his own respect and admiration for Heistad, Skorton described current efforts within the AAMC. One method, he explained, is by encouraging the study of the arts and humanities by medical students and other trainees. By nurturing one’s creative side and a passion for expression, physicians can connect on deeper levels with their patients, colleagues, and society.

In a closing Q&A with Welsh, Skorton made it clear that Heistad has a talent for producing similar levels of empathy and compassion in his trainees. His example, he said, is one that will stand years to come, a model of the academic physician-scientist who inspires others and who then become inspirations themselves. It was a fitting close to an afternoon of recognition and honor for one of the college’s best.

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