Schmalstieg wins Ho Din, highest award

Dr. William "Will" Schmalstieg, winner of Southwestern Medical Foundation's Ho Din Award - the highest honor given a graduating medical student - developed a relentless passion for knowledge at an early age.

As a boy he read an entire set of children's encyclopedias from cover to cover.

"He wore out the 'D' encyclopedia - with the section on diseases - very early, so I was not surprised when he chose a career in medicine," his mother, Dr. Elisabeth Schmalstieg, said. "William was reading by the time he was 4, and he read every thing he could get his hands on."

Throughout his life, Dr. Will Schmalstieg, has always been judicious about time, said Dr. Charles Tubbs, Dr. Schmalstieg's uncle and assistant professor of family and community medicine at UT Southwestern - an occupation that seems to run in the family. The Ho Din winner's father, Dr. Frank Schmalstieg, is on the faculty at UT Medical Branch in Galveston, and his mother is a neurologist and a former UTMB faculty member.

"Will is a very disciplined scholar," Dr. Tubbs said of his nephew, one of three medical students to graduate at the top of their class with 4.0 grade-point averages. "He pursues only those things that he sees as worthwhile. He is very intentional about what he does and how he uses his time."

One example of his carefully chosen pursuits during medical school was tutoring other students, Dr. Tubbs said.

"To Will, helping other people in education is a worthwhile pursuit," he added.

For his work, Dr. Schmalstieg received the first Excellence in Tutoring Award in May, an honor that will now be given out yearly by the Office of Medical Education, said Dr. Al Hesser, director of Student Academic Assistance Services in the Office of Medical Education and associate professor of health care sciences.

"At the risk of sounding over dramatic, in my opinion Will has been to the UT Southwestern Tutorial Program what Michael Jordan was to professional basketball, and he will be missed," Dr. Hesser said. "Having had the opportunity to know and observe approximately 1,000 gifted tutors over a 23-year period, he is clearly the best I've seen in terms of the contributions he has made, both quantitatively and qualitatively. He has made an extraordinary contribution to our student community."

While a third-year medical student, he helped the faculty reorganize the neuroscience course, said Dr. Jim Wagner, associate dean for student affairs.

And during clinical rotations at UT Southwestern, Dr. Wagner said Dr. Schmalstieg's depth of medical knowledge was repeatedly demonstrated when, according to faculty members, he answered questions that stumped some residents.

In his spare time, Dr. Schmalstieg participated in the on-campus a cappella group known as Arrhythmia and sang in the choir at First Presbyterian Church in Garland, which he attends with his uncle. Music has long been a pursuit for Dr. Schmalstieg, a baritone who sang in choirs and ensembles throughout high school and college.

He also was recently elected president of Alpha Omega Alpha, the medical honorary society.

Though he came to UT Southwestern for its internal medicine program, Dr. Schmalstieg has chosen to pursue neurology as a specialty. He begins his postgraduate education in July at the Mayo Clinic. He is particularly interested in multiple sclerosis, he said.

"I think the 40 to 50 years that may constitute my career is going to be an amazing time of discovery in the neurosciences," he said. "Multiple sclerosis is an exciting research area at this point and something in which I see significant promise for the future. Twenty years ago, the only therapy for MS was to take steroids. Now we have a host of disease-modifying agents."

Dr. Schmalstieg said his attraction to multiple sclerosis and other neurological disorders lies in the potential for long-term, meaningful relation ships with patients.

"Being involved in helping people through the chronic disease process, to me, is more meaningful than having someone come in, get fixed, and leave," he said. "I want to get deeper - to find out how the disease is affecting various areas of their lives. In order to do that, there is a level of trust that has to be developed, and that takes time."

Ultimately, he hopes to pursue a career in medical education - a choice that follows in the footsteps of his mother, father, uncle and maternal grandfather, Dr. Harry Tubbs, a longtime general practitioner and one of the earliest members of the Texas Academy of General Practice.

"I came to medical school saying I wouldn't do anything my parents did," Dr. Schmalstieg said. "My mother is a neurologist, and my father is a pediatric immunologist. Now, I'm going into neurology, and I'm interested in immunology. Funny how that works."


The Southwestern Medical Foundation's Ho Din Award has been given annually since 1943. It recognizes the unique, personal qualities embodied in all great physicians - knowledge, understanding and most of all - as emphasized by the foundation chairman Paul Bass - compassion. "Ho Din" is an acronym for a Greek rendition of "the spirit of medical wisdom." At the request of Southwestern Medical Foundation, Dr. Knox E. Miller and Maj. Gen. W. Lee Hart created the phrase to serve as a motto signifying the award's importance. Given in honor of the foundation's first president, Dr. E.H. Cary, the award comes with a certificate, $7,500 cash prize and a symbolic gold key charm.

"It continues to amaze me the outstanding talent that Southwestern Medical School is able to attract," Mr. Bass said. "Will is a brilliant young man who will continue throughout his life to enhance the practice of medicine."


Dr. Schmalstieg maintained a 4.0 grade point average throughout high school, college and medical school. In 1996 he was valedictorian of his high school class at Ball High School in Galveston, where he also played tennis. For a short time during high school, he considered pursuing a career in law because he enjoyed writing and public speaking. He also toyed with the idea of becoming a commercial airline pilot, he said.

But like his mother, Dr.Will Schmalstieg's first love in academia was history, which would become his choice of major in college. In 2000 he graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in history from Texas A&M University.

Considering the affinity of Dr. Schmalstieg's family's for medical education, it is perhaps appropriate that his parents met during medical school at the UT Medical Branch.

"On a day-to-day basis, I saw what my parents did, and the thing that appealed to me was the opportunity for something new to happen every day," he said. "That potential to be faced each day with something you've never seen before makes it stimulating intellectually. I couldn't imagine getting up in the morning and doing anything different than this."


Media contact: Rachel Horton