After six years of writing a new post every two weeks, I am certainly not going to stop in my last two months. Thank you for the many kind words and well-wishes I have received since news of my impending departure was announced on Monday. I look forward to using these remaining weeks with you doing what I have always done, expressing my sincere belief that this department is among the best in the nation and that you will work to make it stronger. Scale us up to the size of some of the bigger kids on the block and I am convinced that Iowa’s imagination, teamwork, and rigor could put any of those heavyweights on their heels. I look forward to discussing those fundamentals in detail in my final posts here and at my final State of the Department address next month, on 12/16 at noon.
Until then, as I said, my purpose here remains the same: to spread the good word about what makes us great. There is a phrase I like to use when I see examples of success from our faculty and trainees: “rock stars.” But what are the qualities of a rock star? That phrase brings to mind a top-tier musician, a lead singer or maybe a guitarist, their band filling some arena with tens of thousands of cheering fans hoping to hear their favorite song live and in person. The Beatles at Shea Stadium. Whoever is performing at the halftime show of the Super Bowl. Prince, the Stones, they are all rock stars. So what do they have in common and why do so many members of our faculty deserve the label?
Rock stars are multi-talented. Beyonce’s vocal range is broader than many other singers, but she can also dance and choreograph, compose infectious choruses, and strategize layered business strategies that keep her name synonymous with pop greatness. In a similar way, Iowa’s name is increasingly associated with premier health services research, excelling simultaneously on multiple fronts. Many here are responsible for that reputation. Under the leadership of Dr. Eli Perencevich, our Associate Chair for Clinical and Health Services Research, a follow-up program to the successful VA-funded CARRIAGE project, which focused on antimicrobial stewardship programs across multiple institutions, has recently been renewed. The $3.2M, four-year QUERI grant will fuel CARRIAGE II, a collection of multiple studies addressing the use of and resistance to antibiotics, how best to implement such studies, and, importantly, how to make sure this work carries on into the future via deliberate mentorship. Is Dr. Perencevich—who also directs the Iowa City VA’s CADRE (Center for Access & Delivery Research and Evaluation), who publishes multiple articles a year on a variety of infectious-disease related topics, and maintains a clinical practice—a Beyonce of health services research? He is definitely a rock star among many rock stars working in this field in our department, including Drs. Michelle Mengeling and Michael Ohl, who will lead a new fellowship at the VA that seeks to recruit diverse trainees seeking to increase their skills in health services research.
Rock stars are also recognized on the national stage. An audience looks up to them for an example of excellence and when they step on that stage they dazzle everyone with what they can do. Two of our graduating fellows in gastroenterology recently became rock stars, on a Las Vegas stage no less, when they swept past nearly 150 other programs’ to win their quiz bowl national title. Drs. Annie Braseth and Asad Ali worked hard all year preparing for the American College of Gastroenterology’s Jeopardy competition and like a pair of rock stars who have spent hours in the practice room, that hard work paid off. Congratulations! These rock stars were supported in their preparations by other rock stars, especially GI Fellowship Program Director Dr. Adrian Holm and Associate Program Director Dr. Arvind Murali. I know they must be proud of what their trainees have accomplished. Another mentor who is likely proud of a mentee is Dr. Anil Chauhan. If rock stars sometimes have to challenge authority, question how things have been done in order to blaze new trails, then Dr. Chauhan qualifies. After a postdoc in his lab had her initial application for a fellowship denied, Dr. Chauhan pressed the agency to reconsider from a different perspective. And in the end, the National Hemophilia Foundation saw the same promise in Dr. Mariia Kumskova and her research into Ehlers-Danlos syndrome in the Chauhan lab, inviting her to apply for and then supporting her via a different funding mechanism.
Finally, I believe the most fundamental quality of a rock star is someone who leaves it all on the stage every time they play. Their dedication and commitment show through in every note, every idea, every collaboration, every interaction with a fan. And their peers know it, recognize it, and honor it. In that respect, we can think of the University of Iowa Physicians Clinical Excellence Awards as our Grammys, peer-determined recognitions of rock star-level performance. And this year, just as with last year, two-thirds of the awards have gone to members of our department. These are only the visible and nominated efforts, and of course well-deserved, but every clinician who has kept pace with the sometimes competing demands for efficiency and quality, especially these last two years, is a rock star worthy of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Rock on!