Jump to main content

Ho Din winner inspired by her mother’s health journey

Ho Din Award 2024 banner
Alexa Wilden, M.D.

Alexa Wilden, M.D., was just 7 years old when her mother developed a rare, incurable neurological condition that took away her ability to walk. As her mom endured long hospital stays and years of health struggles, she observed that not all physicians were the same. Those who supported and encouraged the family on their arduous journey were the ones who stood out as true healers.

“When facing an illness, sometimes you need someone in your corner to guide you and, more importantly, believe you in order to get you through a very stressful situation,” she said. “People did that for us, and I decided I wanted to be the kind of physician who does that for my patients.”

In recognition of her excellence in academics, patient care, and community service, Dr. Wilden has received the Ho Din Award, the highest medical student honor given at UT Southwestern. The award, bestowed by Southwestern Medical Foundation, is presented annually to a recipient with the skills of a great physician. Established in 1943, it comes with a medal, certificate, and $20,000 scholarship.

This special award symbolizes the highest standards of knowledge, understanding, and compassion in the medical field, said Michael T. McMahan, President and CEO of Southwestern Medical Foundation.

“Alexa’s remarkable servant leadership and dedication to supporting her patients and peers reflect these values, highlighting her as an outstanding medical scholar and a compassionate human being,” Mr. McMahan said. “We celebrate Alexa’s accomplishments and anticipate the inspiring influence she will undoubtedly have in her career.”

Watch: Alexa Wilden, M.D. receives 2024 Ho Din Award

Dr. Wilden is a superstar who excels as both a clinician and an educator, said Angela Mihalic, M.D., Dean of Medical Students, Associate Dean for Student Affairs, and Professor of Pediatrics.

“Not only is she brilliant and accomplished, but she has a true heart for service and medical education,” Dr. Mihalic said. “She has dedicated countless hours to supporting the underclassmen through coursework and exam preparation with her wisdom, encouragement, and compassion. I have no doubt she will continue to make an indelible mark on countless patients, learners, and colleagues well into the future, as she has on me.”

It is clear Dr. Wilden’s childhood experiences watching the compassionate care her mother received had a profound impact on her own desire to serve others. Throughout high school and college, she developed skills that would later aid in her career journey. She majored in microbiology at Kansas State University and led the Pre-Health Ambassadors group, which inspired high school students to pursue careers in health care. She also was a teaching assistant for various courses and co-led the university’s Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) prep course.

Always an animal lover, she volunteered at a local animal shelter during college. Her beloved dog, Duke, accompanied her to Dallas to attend UT Southwestern.

Moving to a big city was a dramatic change for Dr. Wilden, who grew up in the small town of Gardner, Kansas. She quickly got involved in numerous student interest groups and research. She also tutored courses through UT Southwestern’s Student Academic Support Services team.

She found working in free clinics supported by UTSW among the most rewarding experiences of medical school. Especially satisfying were opportunities to support vulnerable populations and witness junior medical students experience their first “real doctor moments,” Dr. Wilden said.

“I always learn so much from both our younger learners and our patients,” she added.

Although she initially planned to specialize in oncology, Dr. Wilden soon discovered general internal medicine was her calling.

“With general internal medicine, you get to treat almost everybody,” she said. “It’s just the place I can become the doctor I want to be.”

Dr. Wilden’s commitment to compassionately treating patients and supporting medical students did not go unnoticed. She also received the Hemphill-Gojer Award in Internal Medicine and the Vanatta, Hesser, Schmalstieg Excellence in Tutoring Award. Earning both awards in addition to the Ho Din was incredibly humbling, she said.

Dr. Wilden’s work as a physician makes her an ideal choice for the Ho Din Award, said Blake Barker, M.D., Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Associate Professor of Internal Medicine.

“Alexa is an exemplary student who embodies the meaning and spirit of the Ho Din Award,” he said. “She is a consummately prepared, astute, and indefatigable early clinician. She also possesses a degree of patience, presence, and wisdom that is beyond her years. These are qualities we all aspire to as physicians, and we are honored to offer her this highly deserving recognition.”

Looking back on her childhood, Dr. Wilden said she is grateful to her supportive family and the lessons she learned as a caregiver for her mother, who is now doing well. She is also grateful for her supportive fiancé who has stood by her throughout medical school.

“I had to grow up a little faster than most people,” she said. “But it shaped me into the physician and person I have become.”

Dr. Wilden said she was thrilled to match at UTSW, her first choice. She looks forward to beginning her residency and has a sharp vision of what follows. She plans to play an active role in medical education as a mentor and student advocate, potentially working long term at an academic medical center.

“I feel empowered to continue pursuing my passions and to push improvements in medicine and medical education,” Dr. Wilden said. “I know I could not have done all I have without the opportunities UT Southwestern has provided me and, most importantly, the incredible mentorship I have received throughout my time here.”

Back-to top