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Rising Star Award

This award recognizes exceptional early career clinical faculty whose actions and activities consistently exemplify commitment, professionalism, and leadership.


 

A man in lab coat and brown hair

Jaime Almandoz, M.D., MBA

Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine

Since he joined the UT Southwestern faculty in 2013, Dr. Almandoz has been making a name for himself and UT Southwestern in the field of obesity medicine, creating and building what some say is becoming one of the top obesity programs in the country. An endocrinologist and expert in nonsurgical weight management and the medical care of patients following bariatric surgery, he founded UTSW’s Weight Wellness Program several years ago, designing and implementing a multidisciplinary care model that includes additional obesity medicine physicians, advanced practice providers, dietitians, and a clinical psychologist. Together, the team handles more than 10,000 patient visits a year, even as it maintains high patient satisfaction scores.

Originally from Trinidad in the Caribbean, Dr. Almandoz earned his medical degree from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, graduating first in his class, and then completed a residency in internal medicine at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin. He then spent time at the Mayo Clinic, where he received further training in internal medicine and advanced fellowship training in endocrinology. He subsequently completed an additional fellowship in nutrition and metabolic diseases at UT Southwestern before joining the faculty. Dr. Almandoz also holds an MBA in Healthcare Management from the University of Texas at Dallas Jindal School of Management.

Dr. Almandoz’s expertise in obesity management has garnered him frequent invitations to speak at national and international society meetings, and he is currently Co-chair of the Obesity Society’s Annual Program Committee. In addition, he has authored several papers, invited reviews, book chapters, and patient education pieces in leading journals. As the primary expert on obesity medicine at UTSW, he also is sought out as a mentor and collaborator on campus. One colleague notes that “Dr. Almandoz understands how his clinical program fits into the ecosystem of UT Southwestern overall.”

In his words: “This award recognizes the work and passion for my career that would not have been possible without the support of family, mentors, and colleagues. I humbly consider myself part of a galaxy of very talented faculty and allied health providers, all of whom make UTSW a great place to work and receive care. It is my hope that this award will highlight our efforts to create a more patient-centered, multidisciplinary model of care that is applicable to chronic disease management – not just obesity.”


  

Man with trim beard, red tie, and labcoat on

Neil Desai, M.D.

Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology
Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center

When Dr. Desai was being recruited to UT Southwestern as a radiation oncologist following training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in 2015, it was readily apparent to interviewers that he was an exceptional candidate based on his intelligence and infectious energy. Five years later, it is clear those impressions were well-founded. In particular, he is recognized as a highly driven engine for collaboration in nearly every corner of his work, which has earned him the high regard of patients and peers as a specialist in prostate cancer and hematologic malignancies.

Dr. Desai is known as an early adopter, investigator, and instructor for various devices and tests, making him a standard-bearer for UT Southwestern’s focus on innovative, personalized care. As a colleague notes, “his vision for tackling difficult clinical questions and ability to recruit the needed teams to investigate them have proven compelling to industry and cooperative groups alike,” as evidenced by his service as a national principal investigator of ongoing and planned large-scale randomized trials.

At the same time, he recognizes his primary duties to his patients and trainees, modeling an unflinching approach to self-critique in the pursuit of improving treatment and experience for patients.  A colleague notes, Dr. Desai is “highly enthusiastic about both his clinical practice and his research work. His personable nature has connected well with patients, referring faculty, and key opinion leaders at other institutions across the country.”

In his words: “To be recognized with this award is an acknowledgment of the humbling opportunities I have been given in spades here – by the colleagues with whom I work, the patients we serve, and the culture of love for one's calling that we all share. It is a privilege and pleasure to be part of programs that treasure progress and compassion in equal measure. I thank my mentors, colleagues, and patients for the fulfillment and pride they have given and my patient wife and children for their support.”


 

Brad Lega, M.D.

Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery, Neurology, and Psychiatry
Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute

Dr. Lega is notable for his combination of clinical, research, and teaching gifts, which were evident soon after he joined UT Southwestern in 2014 in the Department of Neurological Surgery. His clinical focus is the surgical treatment of epilepsy, where his expertise and technological skills have enabled UT Southwestern to dramatically increase the number of surgical epilepsy cases, leading to UTSW’s accreditation as a Level IV epilepsy center and distinction as Texas’ leading epilepsy program by volume. He also treats patients with brain tumors who suffer seizures, and works with UTSW movement disorder specialists to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease and tremors, for whom surgery can be life-changing. 

Dr. Lega earned his medical degree at Baylor College of Medicine and then completed a neurosurgery residency at the University of Pennsylvania, followed by a fellowship in epilepsy surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. While at the Cleveland Clinic, he gained expertise in the use of stereo EEG, a technique used to identify whether patients with epilepsy are candidates for surgical treatment. He is one of only a handful of neurosurgeons in the country using this technique.

Along with being a gifted surgeon, Dr. Lega is highly regarded as an educator and mentor, consistently receiving high marks from students and residents. Over the past year, he created a neuroscience course to provide instruction to learners during the COVID-19 pandemic. His service to the institution is noteworthy as well, with Dr. Lega having recently served as President of the Faculty Senate. Colleagues also have remarked that he is a role model to other clinical faculty, citing the energetic way he has sought to form lasting relationships with basic science faculty across campus in order to develop innovative research plans. 

In his words: “I tell anyone who will listen that I have one of the best jobs in the world, and the ability to collaborate every day with smart, dedicated clinicians is a large part of why I chose to work at UT Southwestern. Caring for patients suffering from epilepsy, movement disorders, and brain tumors gives me an opportunity to work with and learn from professional colleagues all the time. They even tolerate my humor. The teamwork built into the fabric of our institution is one of the key reasons that I can tell patients they will be receiving some of the best care in the world when they come to UT Southwestern.”


 

A woman wearing a lab coat

Megan Maxwell, M.D.

Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology and Pain Management

Variously described by colleagues as “motivated,” “diligent,” “dedicated,” and “selfless,” Dr. Maxwell, an anesthesiologist, leads a revamped UT Southwestern presurgical/preprocedural testing enterprise that reaches more than 45,000 patients and procedures a year. In that role, she interfaces with dozens of surgical and procedural faculty members across UT Southwestern on a daily basis, a task that requires effective communication, organization, and professionalism. And she does so while maintaining an active clinical presence, specializing in general anesthesia and obstetrics anesthesia. A colleague notes Dr. Maxwell “gives 110% effort on everything she does, with all efforts directed at optimizing patient care.”

Dr. Maxwell joined the UT Southwestern faculty in 2014, after earning her medical degree at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and completing her residency in anesthesiology at UTSW. Eventually, she was charged with reorganizing and expanding UT Southwestern’s presurgical efforts and activities, and has since built a collaborative program inclusive of nursing, advanced practice providers, internal medicine, geriatrics, nutrition, infection prevention, and hospital operations.

Whatever the need, colleagues report she will devote time and expertise to solving problems in an expedient, patient-centered way. Recently, those efforts have included implementing a consistent, reliable presurgical testing program around COVID-19, ensuring safety for patients, staff, and faculty. Known as an expert in her field and for being rigorous in using evidence of best practices, she has earned the respect of her peers and become a go-to person on campus.

In her words: “I am humbled and honored to be presented with this award. The work I do would not be nearly as fulfilling without the incredible perioperative team I have the privilege of working with daily. The physicians, APPs, nurses, technicians, and administrators on our team work tirelessly every day to ensure each surgical patient at UTSW receives the very highest quality of care. I feel fortunate to do what I love in an environment in which I am so fully supported by institutional and departmental leadership. Above all, I am most grateful to my husband and three children for their unwavering support.”

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