Pediatric rheumatologist Punaro selected for Watson Award

By Deborah Wormser

Dr. Marilynn G. Punaro – recipient of the 2014 Patricia and William L. Watson, Jr., M.D. Award for Excellence in Clinical Medicine – became fascinated with the immune system in medical school while studying rheumatology in the adult specialty of internal medicine.

Update: Lecture Information

The Patricia and William L. Watson Jr., M.D. Award for Excellence in Clinical Medicine Award presentation and lecture will be at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 8, in the Zale Foundation Lecture Hall (D1.600). Reception to follow.


“I started thinking, what if I could intervene earlier in the disease process by doing rheumatology in children? That led me to UT Southwestern, which at the time had one of only nine pediatric rheumatology training programs in the country,” she said.

Dr. Punaro
Dr. Marilynn Punaro

The Watson Award was established in 2009 through a generous gift from UT Southwestern alumnus Dr. William Watson and his wife, Patricia, to create an annual opportunity for the campus community to recognize a faculty physician who has had a profound impact on students, trainees, colleagues, and patients through excellence in clinical care. Dr. Watson, who maintained a private practice in Waco until his retirement in 1992, died in January 2012.

“I am truly honored and humbled to receive this award. Clinical medicine is a team endeavor, so I want to thank the team of extraordinary nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians, and other health professionals who work with me in an environment that supports clinical excellence by putting patients and families first,” said Dr. Punaro, who sees patients from nearby states as well as from Central America and Europe.

“Dr. Punaro is regarded as an extraordinary clinician, with exceptional diagnostic skills, a highly compassionate bedside manner, and unwavering loyalty to her patients,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “She is also widely respected for the scientific rigor she brings to her consideration of complex and sometimes elusive signs and symptoms, as well as for her ability to transform these clues and data into testable diagnostic hypotheses. Her rigorous application of the scientific method to clinical medicine, combined with her exemplary approach to patients, makes her the epitome of a master clinician.”

Dr. Punaro received her undergraduate degree from Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., and her medical degree from Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. She came to Dallas in 1977 for her internship and residency at Children’s Medical Center and then completed a fellowship at UT Southwestern for her specialty training in pediatric rheumatology.

Upon completion of her training in 1982, she joined the staff of Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas, and in 1996 she became a member of the UT Southwestern faculty in the Department of Pediatrics.

In late 2013, Dr. Punaro was named Master of Fashena College, one of the six Academic Colleges established at UT Southwestern Medical School. She also has served as Director of Arthritis Services at Scottish Rite since 1998 and as Division Director for Pediatric Rheumatology in UT Southwestern’s Department of Pediatrics since 2004.

In addition, Dr. Punaro has been active nationally, as a member of professional societies and as an editor and reviewer of articles for the top professional journals in her field. Her own translational and clinical research has been well-supported and well-received. 

“This combination of attributes, activities, and contributions has led to her becoming a ‘go-to’ national authority on pediatric rheumatology. As both a reflection and statement of her stature, for the past 10 years she has been annually selected by her peers within the state as a ‘Texas Super Doctor,’ and by colleagues across the country as a physician to be included in the database of ‘Best Doctors in America’,” Dr. Podolsky said.

Dr. Punaro said, “Working at an academic medical center has provided me with exceptional mentors, stimulating discussions with medical students and trainees, and the ability to collaborate with amazing translational scientists. Those collaborations have led to an understanding of disease processes at the cellular and, in some cases, genetic level that resulted in better therapies. I am humbled by the courage of my patients and their families, and gratified that we have so much more to offer them than when I began in this field.”

The Watson Award will be presented to Dr. Punaro this fall in conjunction with the annual Watson Lecture, which is given by a national health care leader. Details of the event and about the lecture will be announced at a later date.

Past Watson Award recipients and the years they were recognized are Dr. Gary Reed, Chief Quality Officer of UT Southwestern Health System (2009); Dr. Claus Roehrborn, Chairman of Urology (2010); Dr. Duke Samson, Professor of Neurological Surgery (2011); Dr. Sharon Reimold, Professor of Internal Medicine (2012), and Dr. Barbara Haley, Professor of Internal Medicine (2013).


Dr. Haley holds the Charles Cameron Sprague, M.D., Chair in Clinical Oncology.

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

Dr. Reed holds the S.T. Harris Family Distinguished Chair in Internal Medicine, named in his honor; the Eva A. Rosenthal Professorship in Internal Medicine, also in his honor; and the Sinor/Pritchard (Katy Sinor and Kay Pritchard) Professorship in Medical Education Honoring Donald W. Seldin, M.D.

Dr. Reimold holds the Gail Griffiths Hill Chair in Cardiology.

Dr. Roehrborn holds the E.E. Fogelson and Greer Garson Fogelson Distinguished Chair in Urology, and the S.T. Harris Family Chair in Medical Science, in Honor of John D. McConnell, M.D.

Dr. Samson holds the Kimberly-Clark Distinguished Chair in Mobility Research.