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The stars shine bright at campus celebration for 'Leaders in Clinical Excellence'

Man holding glass award over his head, smiling, while people on stage applaud
From left, Drs. John Warner, Daniel K. Podolsky, and W. P. Andrew Lee applaud Dr. Ponciano Cruz, who received the Mentoring Award.

Dr. Jaclyn Albin stood at the lectern on stage at Gooch Auditorium and, with one impromptu remark, set the tone for the Leaders in Clinical Excellence Awards ceremony.

“This feels a little like the Academic Medicine Oscars,” she said, earning the first laugh of many to come at the Nov. 6 event.

Woman in red blazer holding glass award and smiling
Dr. Jaclyn Albin received the first of four Rising Star Awards.

It was indeed a special celebration, woven through with inspirational backstories, laughter, emotion, and gratitude.

About 400 people gathered for the second annual Leaders in Clinical Excellence Awards, established to honor the exceptional contributions of clinical faculty to the care of our patients, to the education of the next generation of health care professionals, and to UT Southwestern overall.

The campuswide event was capped with a reception that transformed McDermott Plaza into a jazzy, twinkling, tree-lit wonderland.

This year the awards roster included the prestigious Patricia and William L. Watson Jr., M.D. Award for Excellence in Clinical Medicine, which remains UT Southwestern’s highest honor for clinical care.

UT Southwestern President Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky opened the program, and along with Dr. W. P. Andrew Lee and Dr. John Warner, presented recipients with their awards.

Video showing a doctor playing above a large stage
The video vignette for Dr. Hugh McClung plays before he receives a Patient and Family Recognition Award.

As each person was called to the stage, the audience was treated to a moving video vignette that featured recipients reflecting on their motivation as clinical faculty members at UTSW. (See Awards Presentation section below.) They each then gave brief remarks, which were always heartfelt and uplifting, and occasionally comedic.

For instance, in accepting her Patient and Family Recognition Award, Dr. Pamela Okada said: “They told me I had 60 seconds (for thank-you remarks), so … I made some notes,” she said, dramatically unfurling a roughly 4-foot-long parchment scroll.

Woman with large scroll standing on stage.
Dr. Pamela Okada with her scroll full of thank-yous.

When it was time for Dr. Ponciano Cruz to collect his Mentoring Award, he mused: “Maybe there should be a name for this award. When I told my friends and family that I would be receiving an award from President Podolsky, they have started to call it ‘The Podolsky.’ I’m so happy to receive The Podolsky Award.”

If there was a theme of the day, it was gratitude for the team, as opposed to individual accolades. Leaders of both Program Awards (Dr. James Brugarolas for the Kidney Cancer Program and Dr. Hicham Ibrahim for the Outpatient Psychiatry Multi-Specialty Program) asked everyone in the audience who was involved with their programs to stand and be recognized.

Man standing at lectern speaking into microphone, wearing a suit
Dr. Robert Timmerman acknowledges his team during his Watson Award acceptance remarks.

Dr. Robert Timmerman followed suit in collecting the Watson Award – the final honor of the night. “I’m getting this award for what’s really a group effort,” he said.

“Our group’s process is simple: We collectively identify problems and shortcomings in the clinic operations, in the patient experience, and in the cancer approach in general,” he said. “We critically look at ourselves to see if we can do things better, or if we can do more. We make plans and investments, and we finally see if the change made a positive impact. Our motives are good, and we work hard. But it’s actually really fun to work hard at something you truly enjoy.”

After the ceremony, attendees were treated to appetizers such as chicken apple sausage bites, sweet potato skewers and elotes, as well as live music by the M-Cats, a UT Southwestern community jazz band.

Some people could barely suppress their urge to bossa nova during the band’s rendition of The Girl from Ipanema.

One of those was Dr. Carolee Estelle, there in part to support Dr. Dale Okorodudu – one of four winners of the Rising Star Award.

“Honestly, the whole night has been so inspirational,” Dr. Estelle said. “Each one of these people is inspirational in their own right, and it’s just exciting to be here and to be part of the team that supported these folks, and hopefully we can be among them in the future.”

Dr. Hilda Loria came to support Dr. Heidi Roman, who received the President’s Award for Diversity and Humanism in Clinical Care.

One thing that struck Dr. Loria throughout the ceremony was that each recipient was purposeful about not accepting an award strictly for themselves. “They all talked about it being an award for their team, and the number of people who have supported them – their families, their teams, their staff members, their mentors,” she said.

“I think that is such a beautiful example of how we do this together as a team, and move change forward.”


Presentation of Awards

In all, 15 awards were distributed across seven categories. Each recipient or program representative approached the stage while the big screen displayed a moving video vignette of the recipient reflecting on their motivations as a member of the clinical faculty at UT Southwestern.

To enlarge any video below, click on the “fullscreen” icon at the far right of the video player.


Presented by Dr. W. P. Andrew Lee, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Provost, and Dean, UT Southwestern Medical School


Rising Star Award


Jaclyn Albin, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine

“For all of us, may we never forget the immense privilege it is to take care of patients in their most vulnerable spaces. And I hope we do that through the lens of innovation and of helping the next generation do even better than we have.”


Aditya Bagrodia, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Urology

“It was when I came back as faculty that I really began to appreciate what a team sport medicine really is.”


David Fetzer, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Radiology

“It’s all about the teamwork. I accept this honor on behalf of all those who work in ultrasound, in particular our hardworking sonographers – who I know I drive crazy, but from whom I’ve learned and grown myself.”


Dale Okorodudu, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine

When he first considered coming to UT Southwestern, he was told he could get a job anywhere in the private sector, but that “‘at UT Southwestern, you will find meaningful work, and that meaningful work is going to give you fulfillment in life.’ And today, I am fulfilled.”


Mentoring Award


Ponciano Cruz Jr., M.D.
Professor of Dermatology

“Tonight, 35 years (at UT Southwestern) seem like a blink of an eye. But it is also quite a long time, with many people to thank. To my academic home and family, Dermatology … to those I helped mentor and to those who continue to mentor me – this really is your honor and your award.”



Presented by Dr. John Warner, Executive Vice President for Health System Affairs:


Patient and Family Recognition Award


Daniel Costa, M.D.
Associate Professor of Radiology and in the Advanced Imaging Research Center

“UT Southwestern is my second home. … I’m honored to see this room filled with people who care about what we do and care about the patients we see on a regular basis.”


Hugh McClung, M.D.
Associate Professor of Internal Medicine

“I started 41 years ago and was mentored by a group of physicians who instilled in me a deep love for clinical diagnosis and figuring things out at the bedside, and then ordering the tests you need then – not the other way around. And that’s always seemed the heart of medicine to me – figuring out the puzzle.”


Pamela Okada, M.D.
Professor of Pediatrics

“My first chair, Dr. Charles Ginsburg, was very supportive during a really hard time. Being a young faculty member with five kids, but also, my oldest who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at that time, and Dr. Ginsburg was right there providing the support and mentorship and the providers to help take care of my daughter. Who is actually here tonight, and she’s 29 years old and gave me a grandson.”


Ashley Hickman Zink, M.D.
Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology 

“Thank you for recognizing those of us who show up every day just to take care of patients. Medicine is a fascinating career. We get to train tirelessly and learn skills that enable us to fix things. But ultimately, sometimes there are things that we can’t fix. And so then we’re left with just our heart. And that can be important, too, in making sure that people are well cared for.”

Program Development Award


Kidney Cancer Program
James Brugarolas, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor of Internal Medicine and Director of the Kidney Cancer Program

 “This award doesn’t go to me; this award goes to the whole program. And that includes not only the doctors, but everybody that makes our work possible. To the people in the office, our nurses, the staff, housekeeping, building maintenance, IR, Grants and Contracts. We’re able to do everything that we do because of the extensive support that we have.”


Outpatient Psychiatry Multi-Specialty Program
Hicham Ibrahim, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry

“I happen to be standing on this stage, but really, this is a team award. The growth of the clinic was not only the result of the Department of Psychiatry strategy. I think this was really an institutional decision. Thanks need to go to Drs. Podolsky, Warner, and Lee and Dr. Mack Mitchell, Dr. Chris Madden, and previously Drs. Bruce Meyer, Greg Fitz, and Stan Taylor. All of them were part of the decision to grow the psychiatric services, and to invest in us, to believe in us. And without them, we couldn’t be providing these services to our patients.”

Presented by Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern Medical Center:

Institutional Service Award

Barry Schwarz, M.D.
Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology

“I don’t feel like I should take any credit for any of this award. Half of it goes to mentors and faculty who made this institution great, and continue to grow it and nurture. To my colleagues, faculty and staff who help me at every turn and have been so wonderful, and to my students.” 


DuWayne Willett, M.D.
Professor of Internal Medicine and Chief Medical Informatics Officer of UTSW Health System

“I deeply appreciate all the amazing people I get to work with at UT Southwestern, to whom this really belongs. Not only are these people amazing, but just the drive they have to be excellent every day is humbling and makes this place just a joy to work at.”

The President’s Award for Diversity and Humanism in Clinical Care


Heidi Roman, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics

“I want to recognize the entire team at the Rees-Jones Center for Foster Care Excellence – every single day these dedicated and skilled child health advocates give their all to support our children and each other in a way unlike any group I have ever experienced.”


Patricia and William L. Watson Jr., M.D. Award for Excellence in Clinical Medicine

Robert Timmerman, M.D.
Professor of Radiation Oncology and Neurological Surgery

“UT Southwestern is an amazing employment destination and the ultimate incubator. Texas likes ideas to be big, and UT Southwestern delivers. The capable help and bountiful resources we enjoy here are the ingredients that we use to make our magic.”

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