Medical school graduate already making his mark as humanitarian, volunteer

By Patrick Wascovich

Dr. Thomas F. Heyne’s vision has no borders. In the medical field, his career goal is to provide as much care as possible to “the poorest of the poor.”

Dr. Thomas F. Heyne

In the spiritual realm, Dr. Heyne operates under the same 24/7 clock of joyful dedication and example-based leadership.

The Dallas native’s thirst for ever-expanding experiences and knowledge, along with his faithful global health care sightline, have helped make Dr. Heyne the 2012 recipient of the Southwestern Medical Foundation’s Ho Din Award – the highest honor given to a graduating student of UT Southwestern Medical School.

“Tommy Heyne is a force of nature,” said Dr. Angela Mihalic, Associate Dean for Student Affairs. “He has been instrumental in the creation and invigoration of many student initiatives. His leadership, tenacity, commitment, and determination to leave no stone unturned’ in pursuit of his passions and goals is unparalleled.

“The most remarkable part is that his passions and goals are always centered on serving the poor and addressing health care disparities. Tommy has always chosen the road less traveled, and I believe he will make all the difference to patients across the globe.”

Ho Din is a Greek acronym representing “the spirit of medical wisdom,” and Southwestern Medical Foundation has given the award annually since 1943. The Ho Din Award, which includes a certificate, a gold key charm, and $7,500, honors  

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Dr. Edward H. Cary, the first president of Southwestern Medical Foundation. Winners are recognized for exhibiting outstanding knowledge, understanding, and compassion.

Dr. Heyne, the sixth of eight children, grew up in a household steeped in medicine, strong faith, and service to the poor. His father is Dr. Roy Heyne, Professor of Pediatrics, who leads the Low Birth Weight Clinic at Children’s Medical Center Dallas. His mother is Dr. Elizabeth Heyne, a physician assistant who recently returned to school to earn a doctorate of psychology.

“God has really blessed my family, and everyone feels the need to give back,” the younger Dr. Heyne said. “My parents are incredible: They sacrifice everything for their children and their patients. I have seven siblings; two are doctors and two are Catholic nuns. Most have or will have doctoral degrees, and all use their talents to serve others.”

Dr. Heyne, president of the Dallas chapter of Alpha Omega Alpha, the national medical honor society, also earned the 2012 Rolland C. Reynolds Pathology Award. The Reynolds Award, which includes $1,500, honors the UT Southwestern pathology professor who was revered for his sincere interest in his fellow man and for his desire to make the world a better place.

“You meet a lot of students in the course of teaching at a medical school. There are some you will never forget. Tommy is easily at the top of this list,” said Dr. Dan Sepdham, Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine who was Dr. Heyne’s mentor in the medical school’s Sprague College. “Tommy is intellectually brilliant and a talented writer. Despite all of this, Tommy remains humble and very teachable. This is a truly rare combination of characteristics.

“Tommy has a servant’s heart, and he really cares about people, especially the less fortunate. It has been a blessing and a privilege to know him.”

The 2002 valedictorian of Dallas’ Cistercian Preparatory School, Dr. Heyne graduated from the University of Dallas with a 4.0 grade-point average and degrees in biology and history before earning a Masters in Theological Studies from the University of Oxford in England, also at the top of his class. He then went to Spain, completing a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship in religious studies, before starting medical school at UT Southwestern in 2008.

Despite more than a decade of attaining nothing lower than an “A” for academic work, he kept his aspirations in check.

“I began med school thinking ‘C equals MD’; in other words, if I can just barely pass, I can still be a doctor,” he said. “If I have accomplished anything, it is because of the prayers and support of my family, mentors, and friends. The opportunities and help I have been given are totally undeserved.”

Without hesitation, Dr. Heyne filled his days with studies and activities. He volunteered and translated at several local health fairs and clinics; helped organize events for the homeless; sent numerous donated medical supplies overseas; and volunteered as an assistant chaplain at Parkland Memorial Hospital. He also launched a new student group, the St. Basil the Great Society, to spur discussion of diverse topics such as AIDS in Swaziland or the symbiosis between religion and medicine in history. One of his humanities-based papers won first place in the 2011 Bander Essay Contest in Medical Business Ethics.

He graduates UT Southwestern with a 4.0 GPA, and will relocate to Boston for a combined internal medicine/pediatrics residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, the teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.

“I didn’t know I would enjoy medical school so much,” Dr. Heyne said. “I didn’t realize that it could be the best of Sherlock Holmes and Mother Teresa, wrapped in one profession. The best times were the days and nights on the Parkland wards. Caring for patients is a truly awesome and humbling privilege.”

Winner of the 2010 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship for Community Service at UT Southwestern, Dr. Heyne also revived the Global Health Interest Group. During breaks in medical school, he has made medical mission trips to Peru, Haiti, Honduras, Uganda, Ethiopia, India, and the poorest areas of Mexico.

“Mother Teresa’s particular call to serve the ‘poorest of the poor,’ and to do it with a cheerful smile, has always resonated deeply with me,” Dr. Heyne said. “There are certainly poor who need help in our city and in our country, but I feel a special call to help those in even more dire need overseas.”