Twenty exceptional faculty members were honored with the 2024 Dean’s Excellence Awards for their outstanding contributions across service, teaching, research, diversity enhancement, and mentorship within the School of Medicine. New to the awards this year is the Regional Site Award, which honors faculty from Heersink regional campuses for outstanding work in any of the five award categories.

This year, the selection committee saw a significant uptick in nominations, resulting in the strongest year to date for nomination volume.

The Dean’s Excellence Awards recipients are selected through a peer-review process facilitated by a member of the dean’s leadership team. Each honoree has been acknowledged for their outstanding accomplishments in crucial mission areas and has displayed an immense influence on both the Heersink School of Medicine and beyond.

This year, the selection committee saw a significant uptick in nominations, resulting in the strongest year to date for nomination volume. “I was thrilled to see a record number of nominations for this year’s Dean’s Excellence Awards for Faculty,” said Anupam Agarwal, M.D., dean of the UAB Heersink School of Medicine.“Our faculty are extremely talented and dedicated, and this year’s volume of nominations is a testament to those qualities. Additionally, I am proud to expand the categories this year to include a new award for our regional campuses. This new category will highlight the outstanding work of our faculty members across the entire state of Alabama. Overall, the 2024 award winners exemplify the excellence of Heersink School of Medicine, and I congratulate each of them for being named a 2024 Dean’s Excellence Award winner.”

The 2024 winners of the Dean’s Excellence Awards are:

Diversity Enhancement

Tracey Wilson, M.D. | Senior Faculty

Andrea Gillis, M.D. | Junior Faculty


Namasivayam Ambalavanan, M.D. | Senior Faculty

Lynn Matthews, M.D. | Senior Faculty

Lily Gutnik, M.D. | Junior Faculty

Sherell Hicks, M.D. | Junior Faculty


Pankaj Arora, M.D. | Senior Faculty

Gang Liu, M.D., Ph.D. | Senior Faculty

Romi Gupta, Ph.D. | Junior Faculty

Emily Wong, Ph.D. | Junior Faculty

Regional Site Award (Service)

John Fanning, M.D. 

Quince Gibson, M.D. 


Jeffrey Blount, M.D. | Senior Faculty

Helen Krontiras, M.D. | Senior Faculty

Kara Huls, M.D. | Junior Faculty

Patrick Hussey, M.D. | Junior Faculty


James Hwang, M.D. | Senior Faculty

Ryan Kraemer, M.D. | Senior Faculty

Jessica Fazendin, M.D. | Junior Faculty

Jeremy Walker, M.D. | Junior Faculty

Tracey Wilson, M.D.

image0 1Tracey Wilson, M.D., FACS, professor in the Department of Urology, has been selected as the senior faculty winner for the Dean’s Excellence Award in Diversity and Enhancement. Wilson also serves as chair for the DEI Committee within the UAB Department of Urology.

Recognizing the importance of a broader perspective beyond her own experiences as a URiM physician, she enrolled in Cornell University’s Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program. Under her guidance, the committee has undergone a profound transformation, diligently ensuring that all departmental policies and procedures are approached with inclusivity in mind. This includes implementing an active protocol to address any micro or macroaggressions encountered by department members, restructuring the Clinical Competency Committee to better reflect the diverse resident population it evaluates, and facilitating role-playing and case-based learning sessions for faculty, residents, and staff to explore unconscious biases.

As the director of the Reproductive Organ Module (MS2), Wilson has significantly enhanced the medical education experience by integrating lectures on sexual health and transgender care. Notably, she presents a lecture on the contentious history of Urogynecology in Alabama in a non-confrontational manner. Her efforts have garnered recognition, as evidenced by her invitation to speak at next year’s annual George Yang Endowed Lectureship in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

“Dr. Tracey Wilson naturally exudes leadership in advancing representation and inclusivity in urology and medicine at large,” stated Soroush Rais-Bahrami, M.D., MBA, interim chair for the Department of Urology and close colleague of Wilson. “One would even say that the intentional process of promoting these elements is what Tracey embodies. Her efforts have helped shape and enrich our Heersink School of Medicine, university, region, and national landscape in medicine. As the first Black female faculty member across all surgical departments at UAB to be promoted to tenured professor, Dr. Wilson has broken the proverbial glass ceiling and educates others to see no bounds for their potential.”

Wilson ardently advocates for marginalized populations and their access to healthcare. She serves as the sole adult urologist providing maintenance care to adults with Spina Bifida in the nationally renowned Adult Spina Bifida Clinic. At a national level, she co-chairs the DEI Task Force of the Society of Urodynamics Female Pelvic Medicine and Urogenital Reconstruction (SUFU). Through her leadership, she presented 10 recommendations to the Executive Committee, resulting in the adoption of six proposed bylaw changes aimed at fostering a more inclusive agenda and mission.

Andrea Gillis, M.D.

Gillis 1 1 Headshot copyAndrea Gillis, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Surgery’s Division of Breast and Endocrine Surgery, is the junior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award for Faculty in Diversity Enhancement. She co-directs the Pre-College Research Internship for Students from Minority Backgrounds (PRISM) to help support and encourage students from underrepresented communities to pursue careers in healthcare and research.

Gillis received her medical degree from Columbia University and completed her surgical residency at Albany Medical Center in New York. She then joined the University of Alabama at Birmingham to complete her clinical fellowship in endocrine surgery. During her fellowship, Gillis was able to secure funding through the highly competitive National Cancer Institute Early Stage Surgeon-Scientist Program from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), becoming the first Black female academic endocrine surgeon to obtain NIH research funding.

Her dedication to research is driven by her desire to reduce healthcare disparities, especially among those from minority or socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, which is particularly important given the diverse patient population at UAB.

Gillis is a member of the Neuroendocrine Cancer Research Laboratory at UAB and excels in both clinical and translational research. Her current research interests focus on studying the role of epigenetic variations in pancreatic cancer. In addition to her research, Gillis is also an advocate for students from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds.

“The successes in her career not only impact clinical outcomes to reduce health disparities in diverse patient populations, but additionally contribute to equity and inclusion among future generations of surgeon-scientists. Dr. Gillis’s dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion has a far-reaching influence on patient outcomes and producing future researchers from widely diverse backgrounds,” said Herbert Chen, M.D., FACS, chair of the Department of Surgery.

Namasivayam Ambalavanan, M.D.Ambalavanan Headshot

Namasivayam Ambalavanan, M.D., professor in the Department of Pediatrics’ Division of Neonatology, is the senior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Mentoring.

Ambalavanan serves as a mentor through many of his leadership roles including co-division director for the Division of Neonatology, program director for the Neonatology Fellowship Program, director of the Division of Neonatal Research, and director of the Translational Research in Normal and Disordered Development (TReNDD) Program. He has provided mentorship and training for many junior or mid-career faculty, fellows, post-doctoral students, residents, and medical students during his time at UAB.

Expanding his mentorship out of the Division of Neonatology, Ambalavanan created the TReNDD Program to provide mentorship across the Department of Pediatrics. Through his leadership and guidance, many of his mentees have received recent/current grant funding including the following grants, R01, R21, K08, K23, American Heart Association (AHA) Career Development Grant, AHA Health Equity Research Network Grant, R44, U34, UG1, Foundation for the National Institutes of Health and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant, and Thrasher Research Fund.

“Dr. Ambal is an extraordinary asset to UAB and a valuable leader in educating the next generation of physician-scientists,” said Wally Carlo, M.D., co-director of the Division of Neonatology. “He is a superb director, mentor, and professor, and he deserves recognition for his continued mentoring excellence.”

 Lynn Matthews, M.D.

Matthews HeadshotLynn Matthews, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases, is the senior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Mentoring.

Matthews mentors undergraduate and graduate students, post-docs, and faculty in Alabama, Massachusetts, Uganda, and South Africa while also holding leadership positions at UAB focused on mentorship. Nearly all her mentees come from groups that are traditionally disadvantaged in medicine. Her mentees have published over 40 first-authored manuscripts and secured NIH and foundation funding. Her mentoring skills were evaluated as high impact by a panel of external reviewers.

Matthews served as the inaugural Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) Developmental Core associate director. This inaugural year was incredibly successful, with 12 investigators meeting in person monthly to discuss often-undiscussed research topics and creating a safe space for peer networking and advising.

Matthews is also the associate director for the Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health, in which she directs monthly research sessions, oversees pilot grants, and directs a seminar series. She mentors doctoral and post-doctoral fellows conducting patient-oriented research for the INSIGHT Fogarty D43 Training Program, between UAB, Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and the University of Pittsburgh. In addition to this role, Matthews chairs the DREAM council for the Department of Medicine, awarding funds to support and recognize trainee research and organizing the Trainee Research Symposium.

“Dr. Matthews embodies the absolute spirit of mentoring,” said Renee Heffron, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine and UAB Center for AIDS Research director, who nominated Jones for the honor. “She embodies that spirit with her trainees locally and globally, with a commitment to excellence, high quality, and innovation.”

Lily Gutnik, M.D.Gutnik Headshot copy

Lily Gutnik, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Surgery’s Division of Breast and Endocrine Surgery, has been named the junior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Awards for Faculty in Mentoring. Gutnik also serves as the assistant professor of health policy and organization in UAB’s School of Public Health, assistant program director for the UAB General Surgery Residency in global surgery, and associate vice chair of global surgery. Through her many roles, she has demonstrated tremendous dedication to mentoring medical students and trainees at all levels, from undergraduates through fellows, across continents, including mentees in East Africa, and laying the foundation for their ongoing success.

Gutnik mentors undergraduates in summer research through the Surgery Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) and the UAB Cancer Research Immersion Program (CRISP). Nominated by her trainee in CRISP, Gutnik received the 2022 Excellence in Mentoring Award from the UAB Minority Health and Health Equity Research Center in recognition of her dedication to go above and beyond to help guide young investigators in the field of health disparities research.

The success of Gutnik’s mentoring can be measured in her mentees’ accomplishments, who have collectively presented more than 30 abstracts and posters at local, national, and international conferences and produced 19 manuscripts.

“Dr. Gutnik is emerging as an international leader and recognized mentor in breast cancer surgery, cancer prevention and control, and health disparities research,” said Herbert Chen, M.D., FACS, chair of the Department of Surgery. “Her mentees greatly benefit from her diligent dedication to mentoring at all levels of medical education and training.”

Sherell Hicks, M.D.

HicksSherell scrSherell Hicks, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, is the junior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Mentoring.

Hicks joined the Department of Emergency Medicine in 2016 as a resident after completing medical school at the University of Tennessee. Following graduation in 2019, Hicks joined the department as faculty and soon became an Assistant Residency Program Director to pour back into the program that taught and trained her. In addition to her role in the program, Hicks serves pre-medical undergraduate students on their journey to apply to medical school through the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) at both UAB and on the national level. She also is the lead faculty member of the Lyons Learning Community, where she regularly leads students in discussions on culturally relevant topics such as physician wellness in the field, medical ethics, and elements of patient autonomy.

“Dr. Hicks has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to mentoring medical students and residents and has fostered a culture of growth in our department and in the Heersink School of Medicine. Her steadfast dedication to mentorship, characterized by compassion, insight, and unwavering support, has enriched the professional journeys of countless learners. It’s so great to see her outstanding contributions recognized,” said Charles Khoury, M.D., MSHA, associate professor and Residency Program director for the Department of Emergency Medicine.

Within the Department of Emergency Medicine, Hicks serves as the director of the Mentorship Program. She has fostered a family-like community among residents and faculty by forming groups that will extend through their time in the residency program and beyond. These groups gather on a regular basis and focus not only on professional development but also on supporting one another in the often intense yet fulfilling field of emergency medicine. More specifically, she created a mentorship group bringing together the females of the department, cleverly referred to as FEMinEM (females in emergency medicine).

“Dr. Hicks’ character, integrity, and commitment to her patients has been the basis from which she derives her philosophy for teaching and mentoring,” said Marie-Carmelle Elie, professor and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine. “She devotes her personal and professional energy to cultivate meaningful inclusive experiences for all of her students. She has made a significant impact on countless learners across the trajectory of our teaching curriculum at UAB. We are thrilled, proud, and not the least surprised that she has been honored for her testament to excellence.”

Pankaj Arora, M.D.Arora Headshot

Pankaj Arora, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Cardiovascular Disease, is the senior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Research.

Arora’s interest in cardiovascular genetics led him to collaborate with NHLBI TOPMed co-investigators to lead the largest-ever investigation to discover the genomic determinants of natriuretic peptides. His passion for cardiovascular genetics led him to establish the UAB Cardiogenomics Clinic, one of only two such centers in the Southeast. In line with his clinical role as the director of the UAB Cardiogenomics Clinic, he recently identified that the amyloidogenic TTR V122I that disproportionately impacts African Americans is associated with heart failure and mortality. This landmark contribution led to the classification of TTR as a secondary finding reportable gene by the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, which has landmark implications for over a million African Americans carrying the pathogenic TTR V122I.

Arora’s multidisciplinary, translational research program has now accumulated $13 million in extramural support, a testament to his efficiency, diligence, and leadership. His translational research program has made several seminal contributions toward understanding the mechanistic insights of NP-deficient populations such as obese individuals, individuals of African ancestry, and those with genetic variations. His contributions to advancing cardiovascular genomics and natriuretic peptide biology were nationally through his recent election to the American Society of Clinical Investigation.

“Dr. Arora is a stellar physician-scientist who has in a very short time established himself as an internationally recognized leader in cardiovascular genetics and natriuretic peptide physiology,” said Palaniappan Sethu, Ph.D., professor of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering, who nominated Arora for the honor. “His research accomplishments include high-impact publications, substantial research funding, and patented therapeutic strategies.”

Gang Liu, M.D., Ph.D.

Liu HeadshotGang Liu, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine, is the senior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Research.

Liu has made significant strides in research on inflammasomes in lung inflammation and injury. This pioneering work garnered support from prestigious grants, including a NIAID R01 in 2023, demonstrating the novelty and importance of his research endeavors. His contributions to the field extend beyond inflammasome studies, with major advancements in ncRNA studies in lung diseases, as reflected in high-impact publications such as the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and JCI Insight.

Liu’s work in cellular metabolism in lung diseases, published in top journals including the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the Journal of Immunology, and the American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology, has similarly made a significant impact.

Liu has demonstrated his commitment to advancing scholarly discourse within respiratory research. He has authored over 100 manuscripts that have collectively amassed over 11,000 citations, reflecting the substantial impact of his work. His h-index of 62 in 2024 is a testament to the enduring significance and influence of his contributions to the scientific community. Liu’s expertise is acknowledged at a national level, as evidenced by his role in chairing multiple symposia at the annual meetings of the American Thoracic Society, including in 2023 and 2024.

“Gang Liu’s extraordinary accomplishments, leadership in the academic community, and groundbreaking research make him an exceptional researcher,” said Mark Dransfield, M.D., professor and director in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine, who nominated Jones for the honor. “I believe that recognizing his achievements will not only honor Dr. Liu but also serve as an inspiration to the broader academic community.”

Romi Gupta, Ph.D.Romi Gupta 4 5 Headshot copy

Romi Gupta, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, is the junior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Research.

“We are fortunate to have Dr. Gupta in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. She’s a great scientist and a strong departmental citizen. Most importantly, she provides a great example of the quality of our faculty at UAB,” said David Bedwell, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics.

Gupta completed her graduate work in protein translation at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in 2009 before embarking on her postdoctoral training at Yale University. In 2019, she established her independent research group in the UAB Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. Her current research focuses on identifying new molecules and pathways, studying their role in tumor initiation and progression, and developing more effective and durable cancer therapies.

“Cancer ranks as one of the top causes of death globally. Cancer research has been transforming and saving innumerable lives every year. Any progress in the field of cancer therapy provides fresh hope to the cancer patients,” Gupta said.

Gupta is responsible for major breakthroughs related to novel genetic and epigenetic dependencies in different cancer types, as well as identifying new therapeutic targets and work from her group has been featured in several notable publications. Her expertise in both basic and translational research has earned her several awards from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute and the Department of Defense.

Emily Wong, Ph.D.

Wong HeadshotEmily Wong, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases, is the junior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Research.

Wong’s pioneering work in understanding the pathogenesis of tuberculosis (TB), identifying imaging and laboratory signatures, and enhancing immunity mechanisms in human hosts has significantly advanced our understanding of this global health challenge.

Wong’s research endeavors, conducted primarily in South Africa, have been instrumental in unraveling the complexities of TB and TB/HIV co-infection. Her focus on identifying relevant states along the TB spectrum and enhancing natural immunity to control disease progression has the potential to transform TB prevention and treatment strategies, particularly in high-burden settings.

One of Wong’s notable achievements is her success in securing external funding to support her research efforts. Her grant from the Burroughs-Wellcome Foundation to study subclinical tuberculosis underscores the significance and impact of her work in addressing critical gaps in TB research.

With over 60 manuscripts published in high-impact journals such as Nature and Nature Medicine, Wong made substantial contributions to the scientific literature on TB research. Her publications both contribute to academic discourse and inform policy and practice.

Wong’s impact extends to her invited lectures and presentations. She has been invited to speak on her research at 35 different venues, most of which occurred in the past three years alone. Her ability to effectively communicate complex scientific concepts to diverse audiences further amplifies the significance and relevance of her research on a global scale.

“Emily Wong’s exceptional contributions to TB research demonstrated through her innovative studies, successful grant funding, prolific publication record, and extensive dissemination efforts, make her an exemplary colleague.,” said J. Martin Rodriguez, M.D., professor, and interim director of the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases, who nominated Wong for the honor. “Her dedication to advancing scientific knowledge and addressing pressing global health challenges is commendable and deserving of recognition.”

John Fanning, M.D.Fanning 4 5 Headshot

John E. Fanning, M.D., assistant professor and regional chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at the UAB Huntsville Regional Medical Campus, is the winner of the Dean’s Excellence Regional Site Award in Service.

With more than 25 years of experience as a community UAB faculty member prior to transitioning to a full-time faculty member in 2019, Fanning has made significant contributions to patient care, education, and administration.

“He has proven to be a true servant leader who strives to support his faculty in whatever way possible,” said Roger Smalligan, M.D., MPH, regional dean of the UAB Heersink School of Medicine Huntsville Regional Medical Center. “Dr. Fanning is always available to his faculty and to me. The chairs of other departments look to him for wise advice as issues arise on our campus.”

Under his leadership, department meetings are collegial, and he celebrates the unique talents of each faculty member. His IT expertise, gained from serving as a physician-IT liaison at Huntsville Hospital, has been invaluable for advising on electronic medical record (EMR) issues. Fanning’s community engagement includes supervising hospice work, providing services at the Huntsville Community Free Clinic, and coordinating an inpatient geriatric consult service.

Fanning’s commitment to service goes beyond the clinic and hospital walls. After speaking at a national meeting of the Flying Physician Association—an organization dedicated to educational and safety efforts—he was entrusted with organizing their next scientific meeting and chairing their continuing medical education efforts. His involvement in academic public service includes serving as the department chair and contributing to various committees.

In addition to his professional commitments, Fanning engages with the community through podcasts hosted by the American College of Physicians Alabama/Mississippi Chapter. He also occasionally provides news interviews when called upon. His demeanor reflects the utmost respect and professionalism in all aspects of his work.

“His dedication exemplifies excellence and positively impacts both patients and colleagues,” Smalligan said.

Quince Gibson, M.D.

Gibson 4 5 HeadshotQuince Gibson, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Surgery’s Division of Gastrointestinal Surgery, has been named the winner of the Dean’s Excellence Regional Site Award in Service. He is currently dedicating his services to UAB General Surgery at Whitfield Regional Hospital (WRH) in Demopolis, Alabama. Over the past three years, Gibson has shown significant commitment toward Central Alabama, including Marengo, Sumter, Greene, Hale, Perry, and Choctaw counties.

Gibson began his journey at the Medical School of Loma Linda University and continued with his general surgery residency at UAB. During his residency, he took the initiative to organize his own international rotation in Malawi, Africa. This is a testament to his proactive approach to addressing global health disparities.

Gibson shares his experiences and insights with residents, inspiring them with the benefits of global surgery. When the opportunity to serve the people of rural Alabama arose, he saw it as a natural progression in his mission to help underserved and underrepresented communities. He excelled at bringing these communities surgical options and care previously not available.

Gibson has played a crucial role in improving the medical facilities at Whitfield Regional Hospital. Thanks to his efforts, medical students and residents were brought in, and modern equipment was made available to the hospital. As a result, patients in the local area now have access to advanced medical services such as robotic surgery, minimally invasive bariatric surgery, and lifestyle medicine services. Additionally, elective procedures can now be scheduled with shorter wait times.

“Dr. Gibson’s passion for impacting the health of international and underserved communities started before medical school in inner city Baltimore where he saw the impact of health illiteracy and socioeconomic barriers on those in his community,” said Herbert Chen, M.D., FACS, chair of the Department of Surgery. “His dedication is quite extraordinary. Dr. Gibson’s commitment to service to rural and underserved populations within our state is truly an inspiration and incredible role model to all.”

Jeffrey Blount, M.D.Blount Headshot copy

Jeffrey P. Blount, M.D., MPH, professor in the Department of Neurosurgery and director of the Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery, has been awarded the senior faculty Dean’s Excellence Award for Service.

After earning his medical degree at the University of Rochester, Blount successfully completed his neurosurgical residency at the University of Minnesota before dedicating three years to providing care in the U.S. Navy at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. To further his expertise in pediatric neurosurgery, Blount completed a fellowship at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Blount has devoted his career to improving lifelong care for individuals with spina bifida, and advocates tirelessly for spina bifida prevention, intervention and education.

Blount serves as medical director for the Comprehensive Spina Bifida Program at Children’s of Alabama, where he led the development of a pre-natal spina bifida clinic and was instrumental in establishing the UAB Transitional Spina Bifida Clinic.

As co-founder of the Global Alliance for Prevention of Spina Bifida (GAPSBiF), Blount’s efforts were transformative in the organization’s successful petition of the World Health Organization to adopt resolution 76.19, which calls for countries to implement large scale food fortification to combat micronutrient deficiencies that lead to neural tube defects, like spina bifida. His work advocating for folic acid supplementation has the potential to positively impact the lives of 250,000 babies each year, globally.

Blount remains committed to patient care, student mentorship, resident and fellow training, research, and institutional service.

“This is a well-deserved award for Dr. Blount, who has put so much of his time and energy in caring for patients with spina bifida as a neurosurgeon, but also in the interest of public health and prevention of the disease itself,” says James Markert, M.D., MPH, James Garber Galbraith Endowed Chair of Neurosurgery and Department of Neurosurgery professor. “It’s unusual for a neurosurgeon to have such potential global impact, in addition to the day-to-day impact Jeff makes on individual patients and their families’ lives. We are very proud of his perseverance and dedication to this patient population.”

Helen Krontiras, M.D.

krontiras 4 5 HeadshotHelen Krontiras, M.D., is a professor of surgery and chief of the Department of Surgery’s Division of Breast and Endocrine Surgery. She also serves as the medical director of the UAB Multidisciplinary Breast Clinic and the co-director of the Breast Cancer Prevention and Risk Assessment Clinic.

“As one of the most senior surgeons in the Department of Surgery at UAB, she has served as an exemplar and mentor to many women surgeons and to those who aspire to a career in surgery. She gives willingly of her time to mentor trainees,” said Herbert Chen, M.D., FACS, chair of the Department of Surgery.

Krontiras attended medical school and surgical residency at UAB. After completing a breast surgery clinical fellowship at Northwestern University, she returned to UAB as a faculty member.

Krontiras is a strong advocate for quality improvement and assurance in healthcare. Her involvement includes analyzing and reviewing ambulatory quality outcomes regularly to deliver high-quality, cost-effective care. In 2018, she became the first female in the Department of Surgery at UAB to receive an endowed professorship, the Kirby I. Bland, M.D., Endowed Professorship.

Krontiras has pioneered several key strategic initiatives that were novel at the time and are now common at academic cancer centers. These include the establishment of an interdisciplinary breast clinic and the incorporation of nurse practitioners into the breast health program to increase access. In recognition of her work, she was nominated for the Women Who Shape the State of Alabama award, which recognizes women who have made long-lasting contributions to the state.

“Dr. Krontiras’s significant contributions as a breast surgical oncologist, quality leader, and mentor epitomize the Dean Excellence Award in Service,” said Chen.

Kara Huls, M.D.Huls Kara 20224x5 1

Kara Huls, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics’ Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, is the junior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Service.

Since joining UAB in 2018, Huls has served as the medical director of the Children’s of Alabama Pediatric Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program and the Children’s of Alabama Sunrise Clinic for human trafficking survivors. In this unique niche in pediatrics, she has created a safe clinical space in the Sunrise Clinic and brings empathy and advocacy to survivors of sexual assault and commercial exploitation.

Huls received the Inaugural Outstanding Victim Protection in Countering Human Trafficking Award from the US Department of Homeland Security last year. Nationally, she is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Child Abuse and Neglect Section on Urgent Care Medicine and the Section on Early Career Pediatrician. Locally, she is a member of End It Alabama, a project of the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, and the Trauma-Informed Care Task Force at Children’s of Alabama.

“Dr. Huls is a true leader who has changed the landscape locally and nationally for care of human trafficking,” said Kathy Monroe, M.D., director of the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine. “She is an outstanding academic physician that has the utmost compassion and the highest level of integrity. She has been an inspiration to countless patients, families, faculty, and staff. She is a game-changer and a hero.”

Patrick Hussey, M.D.

Hussey Headshot copyPatrick Hussey, M.D., FASE, assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, is the junior faculty member winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Service.

Hussey joined the department in 2020 after completing his residency at Columbia University and cardiothoracic anesthesia fellowship at UAB. Since joining UAB, he has worked with all members of the anesthesia care team to restructure departmental organization for improved operations and was recently appointed director of faculty scheduling.

“Dr. Hussey always focuses on how he can contribute to the department’s mission,” says Dan. E. Berkowitz, M.D., Alfred Habeeb Professor and Chair. “This altruism is best reflected in what one might say is the most ambitious, complex, and controversial role.”

In addition to his leadership in operational advancements, Hussey boasts 14 original publications and is recognized as an outstanding teacher by anesthesiology residents and fellows. He is also currently pursuing a Master of Science in Health Administration from UAB.

“While Dr. Hussey’s tenure is relatively short, he has been able to make profound changes in the operational structure and functioning of our department,” Berkowitz says. “He continually invests in himself, his leadership, and his future in serving his peers to enhance our practice. Dr. Hussey’s enthusiasm to better himself and those around him is the truest act of service and exemplifies his tireless commitment to UAB.”

James Hwang, M.D.Hwang Headshot copy

James Hwang, M.D, associate professor in the Department of Surgery’s Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, director of UAB’s Burn Center, and chief of the Burn Service at UAB, has been selected as the senior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Awards for Teaching. He currently serves as UAB’s only burn surgeon.

Since 2019, Hwang has taught advanced surgical skills for exposure in trauma courses to residents and faculty. As assistant residency program director for Surgical Technical Skill Development, he identified a gap in surgical technical teaching—a lack of a structured curriculum emphasizing technique with feedback built into the process. In response, Hwang developed and launched a 12-week series designed for junior interns (PGY-1s and PGY-2s). The resident response was significant—80% of participants said the courses were “very beneficial” to their residency training. This course will now be annual and mandatory and will be introduced during orientation.

Additionally, last year, Hwang’s rotation in the Burn Center was voted as the Most Outstanding PGY-1 Rotation, proving that residents recognize Hwang’s commitment to their future success as surgeons.

“Dr. Hwang has demonstrated a passion for educating the next generation of surgeons,” said Herbert Chen, M.D., FACS, chair of the Department of Surgery. “Given Dr. Hwang’s dedication to the training of the next generation of surgeons, he clearly shares UAB Medicine’s mission to set ‘the highest standards for medical innovation and education.’”

Hwang is extremely clinically active, generating between 20,000 and 22,000 work RVUS each year—about 2.5 times what is considered full-time for a surgeon, in addition to overseeing complex wound management cases.

He is an instructor for the Advanced Trauma Life Support and Advanced Burn Life Support courses, providing knowledge for the immediate care of burn patients.

In the fall of 2023, Hwang and his burn team co-hosted the Southern Region Burn Conference with the Southern Medical Association, bringing nearly 300 burn medical professionals to Birmingham to learn about current interventions, protocols, treatment modalities, research, and critical pathways to advance patient care.

Ryan Kraemer, M.D.

Kraemer Headshot copyRyan Kraemer, M.D., professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of General Internal Medicine, is the senior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Teaching.

Kraemer is the program director of the largest UAB residency—Tinsley Harrison Internal Medicine Residency Program—which trains roughly 120 internal medicine physicians each year. During his work with this program, Kraemer’s medical students and residents consistently rate him as an excellent teacher.

Kraemer created innovative curricula that impacted hundreds of residents and students, such as the “Medical Education Elective” and “Creating Effective Resident Teachers,” which led to the development of the Clinician Educator Track. He developed evidence-based programs that save lives, avoid harm, and improve teaching in the clinic.

Kraemer is a sought-after speaker in medical education, locally and nationally. He translates scholarship education into educational practice, with 18 peer-reviewed publications, including the Journal of the American Medicine Association Internal Medicine, the Journal of General Internal Medicine, and Circulation. Nationally, Kraemer influences medical education policy and advocacy through the American College of Physicians (ACP). Within ACP, he served as chair of the Council of Early Career Physicians, several Education and Publication committees, and has also served on the Board of Governors and the Board of Regents.

“Dr. Kraemer has solidified UAB’s national reputation in education,” said Carlie Stein Somerville, M.D., associate professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, who nominated Kraemer for the honor. “He is a selfless leader, trusted mentor, and dedicated educator who continues to impact the future of medicine through his commitment to medical education.”

Jessica Fazendin, M.D.Faz copy

Jessica Fazendin, assistant professor and director of medical student surgery clerkships for the Department of Surgery, has been named the junior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Awards in Teaching.

Fazendin is a highly respected educator, as evidenced by her receipt of the 2022 and 2023 Argus Award in Clinical Education and her current nomination for the 2024 President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching at UAB.

Heavily involved in educational service at UAB and nationally, Fazendin currently is a member of the Department of Surgery’s Residency Advisory Faculty Team (RAFT) Committee and Residency Screening and Residency Selection Committees, the Heersink Medical Education Committee, and Short-Term Research Experiences Advancing Medical Students (STREAMS) Selection Committee.

“Dr. Fazendin devotes a tremendous amount of time and effort to working with approximately one quarter of the medical students currently at UAB. This undertaking alone is indicative of her passion for teaching,” said Herbert Chen, M.D., FACS, chair of the Department of Surgery. “Dr. Fazendin truly has an innate ability for teaching and training that makes her not only quite effective but also a student favor consistently year after year.”

Nationally, she is a member of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons Education Readiness Task Force, the Education Committee, and the Entrustable Professional Activities Committee for Fellowship Education.

Fazendin also serves as deputy chief of surgery and residency site director at the Birmingham Veterans Administration Medical Center and lead learning community mentor of the Kirklin Learning Community at the Heersink School of Medicine. She is also a Consultant for the American Board of Surgery and a member of the Student and Resident Scholars (STARS) Committee of the American Journal of Surgery. She has authored two publications for the Surgical Council on Resident Education (SCORE) General Surgery Resident Curriculum.

Jeremey Walker, M.D.

walker Headshot copyJeremey Walker, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases, is the junior faculty winner of the Dean’s Excellence Award in Teaching.

Walker is deeply dedicated to UAB, completing his medical school, residency, chief resident year, and fellowship at this university. Walker has received many awards as recently as 2023, when he received an Argus Award for Best Educator, an Argus Award for Best Block Leader, the Cobbs/Rutsky Award for Clinical Excellence, and the Top 10 Overall Teaching Excellence Award in the Department of Medicine.

Walker is the co-director of the Longitudinal Microbiology Curriculum, as well as co-director of the Medicine Clerkship for MS-3 students. At the national level, Walker is a member of the American Society of Transplantation Infectious Diseases Community of Practice Education Sub-Group and has participated in the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) Medical Education workgroups. He also serves on the HSF Medical Education Grant Review Committee and is a member of various medical education task forces for the UAB Heersink School of Medicine.

Walker’s innovations in medical education are best exemplified by his leadership in developing and implementing digital education tools locally, nationally, and internationally. His Infectious Diseases (ID) Fellows Cup-Kaizen program has been popular among ID trainees and specialists, reaching nearly 1,700 unique learners, and fostering 160,482 teaching moments. His work as an educator was recognized by the IDSA naming him the Featured Educator of the Month.

“Dr. Walker’s impact on medical education at all levels makes him an outstanding faculty member,” said J. Martin Rodriguez, M.D., professor and interim director of the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases, who nominated Walker for the honor. “I anticipate he will continue to be a star in medical education and look forward to his continued success.”


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