UNC School of Medicine Celebrates Distinguished Alumni, Faculty

During the weekend of April 16 and 17, the UNC School of Medicine welcomed back graduates for the Spring Alumni Weekend. As part of the weekend's festivities, this year's Distinguished Medical Alumni Awards, Distinguished Medical Faculty Award and Distinguished Service Award winners were honored.

UNC School of Medicine Celebrates Distinguished Alumni, Faculty click to enlarge Distinguished Medical Alumni Award Recipients (L to R): John Johnston, MD, Doug Kiel, MD, David Cowherd, MD
UNC School of Medicine Celebrates Distinguished Alumni, Faculty click to enlarge Dean Bill Roper presents Dale Jenkins with the Distinguished Service Award

Since 2009, the Distinguished Medical Alumni Award has been divided into two categories. The Community category honors excellence in professional and community leadership while the National category recognizes exemplary work which has garnered national or international attention.

The Medical Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award honors excellence in teaching, contributions to medicine in the state, leadership in continuing education of practicing physicians and improving communication between UNC faculty, alumni and residents of the state.

Finally, the Distinguished Service Award is given annually to non-alumni as a way to recognize governmental and community leadership which has contributed significantly to the mission of the medical school.

Winners are selected by the Distinguished Medical Awards Selection Committee. That group is chaired by Harvey Hamrick, MD.

This year’s winners:

Distinguished Medical Alumni, Community - David Cowherd, MD, ‘81

“Few men have made the impact to the health care of the people in and around Moore County as Dr. David Cowherd.”

That’s what Andy Kiser, MD, wrote in his letter recommending Cowherd for this year’s Distinguished Medical Alumni Award in the Community Category.

Cowherd, UNC School of Medicine class of 1981, has been practicing in Pinehurst since 1987. When he arrived to join the Pinehurst Medical Clinic, he was the only physician there trained in cardiology. In the more than 25 years since, he has built and expanded Interventional Cardiology services in the Sandhills region to a level recognized for excellence statewide.

And, as David Bruton, MD, wrote, Cowherd has done so with an unwavering focus on patient care.

“Another achievement that must be noted is the way that he was able to keep all of the competing medical entities in the community working together during this time of growth and change in medical care. David constantly refocused all on the care of the patient and encouraged everyone to subvert their individual desires and concerns.”

Cowherd is a respected member of the community in Pinehurst and was instrumental in the planning and fundraising that led to the state-of-the-art Reid Heart Center: The FirstHealth Cardiac & Vascular Institute which opened in 2011. In fact, Cowherd performed the facility’s first cardiac catheterization, 24 years after he also performed the first such procedure at Moore Regional Hospital.  

Cowherd’s colleagues call him a “visionary, innovator and humanitarian.”

Randolph Chitwood, MD, director, East Carolina Heart Institute, wrote that Cowherd practices with “the highest levels of both clinical skills and compassion for his patients.”

This, along with his innumerable contributions to the quality of health care offered in Moore County and the surrounding community, have earned Dr. David Cowherd this year’s Distinguished Medical Alumni Award in the Community category.

Distinguished Medical Alumni, Community: John Gardner Johnston, MD, ‘69

John Gardner Johnston, MD, of Charlotte was also selected to receive the Distinguished Medical Alumni Award in the Community Category. During a career spanning several decades, Johnston has shown time and again a commitment to caring for the most vulnerable among us, specifically young people from difficult backgrounds.

While in medical school, Johnston, UNC School of Medicine class of 1969, was one of the founders of the Student Health Action Coalition, the oldest student-run free medical clinic in the nation. Following his time at UNC, Johnston completed a pediatric residency at the University of Washington-Seattle. He then returned home to North Carolina and worked 15 years for a successful private pediatric practice.

At that point, Johnston was drawn to serve when the Mecklenburg Medical Alliance developed a teen-focused healthcare practice. As the medical director of the Teen Health Connection, he helped to create a nationally recognized, free standing, family centered teen healthcare practice that combined both innovative educational initiatives and a strong teaching program for medical students and residents.

Twenty-two years after its founding, Teen Health Connection now stands as the only comprehensive medical and mental healthcare practice for adolescents in the region, offering medical providers, therapists, a dietitian and health educators. It also serves as the medical home for youth under the care of the Department of Social Services.

In her letter recommending Johnston for this honor, Libby Safrit, MA, executive director of Teen Health Connection, wrote the following: “Loved by patients and staff, admired and respected by peers, he taught by instruction and example what it meant to be a physician who took joy in offering his best effort no matter the patient’s problems, background or means.”

Now retired,  Johnston remains active, advocating for measures to ensure that every adolescent is healthy, safe and successful. In honor of this passion and commitment, each year Teen Health Connection awards the Johnston-Ziegler Youth Leadership Award, a merit-based scholarship named in recognition of Johnston and Barbara Ziegler, Teen Health Connection’s founding executive director. The scholarship recognizes a local high school senior who “has demonstrated outstanding leadership, advocacy, or service for adolescents.”

Johnston has also received many awards himself. In 2005, he received the North Carolina Pediatric Society’s Dr. David Tayloe Award for service to pediatrics and the community, the highest award given by the North Carolina chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He also received the 2005 GlaxoSmithKline Child Health Recognition Lifetime Achievement Award Special Recognition.

Distinguished Medical Alumni, National: Douglas Kiel, MD, ‘81

Douglas Kiel, MD, received this year's Distinguished Medical Alumni Award in the National Category. Since graduating from the UNC School of Medicine in 1981, Kiel has received national acclaim for his academic achievement, research and overall success advancing knowledge about musculoskeletal disease, particularly osteoporosis.

His work has focused on the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis in older adults. Kiel has served as the principle investigator of the Framingham Osteoporosis Study since 1991 and has secured continuing support from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases for this project. This work has put him on the forefront of risk factor assessment and a leader in the study of the genetics of osteoporosis.

Arlene Bierman, MD, MS, women’s research chair, University of Toronto, and Kiel’s UNC School of Medicine classmate, praised him as an international leader in his field.

“I can say without any reservation that Dr. Kiel has distinguished himself as one of the leaders in research within the area of musculoskeletal diseases both nationally and internationally. He has expanded medicine through his scientific and academic accomplishments,” Bierman wrote.

At Harvard Medical School, where Kiel has served on the faculty since 1992, he is known for his commitment to inspiring the next generation of physicians and researchers. In fact, he has been recognized with the Harvard Award for Excellence in Mentoring. He also teaches both medical students and house staff at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and serves one month each year teaching and mentoring Beth Israel’s Geriatric Medicine Fellows. In addition to these responsibilities, Kiel serves as an adjunct professor at the Brown University School of Medicine.

He has built an impeccable reputation for mentoring junior faculty members and postdoctoral fellows, many of whom are successfully building research careers.

Kiel serves as the Director of Research at both Hebrew Senior Life and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and his numerous research contributions include the publication of more than 200 original articles for peer-reviewed journals, 27 review articles and 19 book chapters. He has also recently co-edited a book on osteoporosis in older adults.

He has served in a number of national leadership roles including as a reviewer for the NIH and member of advisory boards for NIAMS, NHGRI and NIA. In addition, he has held leadership roles with the American Geriatrics Society and is currently serving as president of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research.

His colleagues and classmates say Dr. Kiel represents all of the qualities sought in recipients of this award.

Distinguished Faculty Award, Ron Falk, MD, ’77

Ronald J. Falk, MD, has been selected as the winner of this year’s Distinguished Medical Faculty Award. Falk, currently the Allan Brewster Distinguished Professor of Medicine, is described by his colleagues as a quadruple threat: “a stellar clinician, teacher, researcher and administrator.”

Falk received a BA Cum Laude from Dartmouth College in 1973 and his MD from the UNC School of Medicine in 1977. After completing his residency at UNC, and a Pediatric Nephrology Research Fellowship at the University of Minnesota, Falk joined the UNC School of Medicine faculty in 1984. He rose through the ranks to professor in 1999 and currently serves at the Allan Brewster Distinguished Professor of Medicine. He holds plenty of other leadership roles, as well, serving as chief of the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension, founding director of the UNC Kidney Center and director or the Center for Transplant Care.

Throughout this time, Falk has maintained a great commitment to teaching at many levels, from the undergraduates who work in his research lab through medical students, residents, nephrology fellows and others.

Will Pendergraft, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at UNC, first met Falk as an undergraduate at UNC, where he cleaned dishes in Falk’s lab as part of a work-study assignment. In the nearly 20 years since, Pendergraft has received both a PhD and MD and recently returned to UNC as a faculty member at the UNC Kidney Center.

“Without Falk’s constant commitment to teaching, mentorship and astute awareness of and attention to family, and personal and professional guidance, none of this would have been possible for me,” Pendergraft wrote.

Falk is also a national leader in his field of nephrology. Along with Charles Jennette, MD, Falk established the Glomerular Disease Collaborative Network which has greatly enhanced communication and research collaborations between community nephrology offices and the UNC School of Medicine. To date, approximately 1,000 physicians from more than 400 clinics throughout the state and region have participated.

Falk has given numerous presentations throughout the world and held leadership positions in national and international organizations. He was elected president of the Council of the American Society of Nephrology in 2011. In addition, he has sustained extramural NIH research grant support throughout his career and served as a member or chair on multiple NIH study sections, review and special emphasis panels and advisory boards since 1997.

His work has also focused on outreach efforts to improve the prevention and care for kidney disease among the people of North Carolina. He established the UNC Kidney Education and Outreach Program with the purpose of screening for kidney disease and hypertension across the state and educating the public about these conditions. Today, in addition to providing educational materials and lab testing in mobile units, the program encourages everyone to ask “Hey Doc, how are my kidneys®,” during each trip to the doctor. This slogan has appeared across television advertising campaigns and billboards around the state.

As one colleague wrote, “Ron Falk is not only one of our most distinguished faculty members, but also one of the most distinguished alumni of the UNC School of Medicine.”

Distinguished Service Award, A. Dale Jenkins:

This year’s Distinguished Service Award winner is Dale Jenkins, CEO of Medical Mutual Insurance Company, chair, Board of Directors, Rex Healthcare and vice-chair, Board of Directors, UNC Health Care.

A native of Shelby, Jenkins is a graduate of Wake Forest University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1978. He then spent sixteen years at Ernst and Young, rising to the rank of partner in less than ten years.

Following his time at Ernst and Young, Jenkins joined The Medical Mutual Group, spending one year as Chief Operating Officer before assuming his current role as the firm’s CEO. Under his leadership, the firm has grown immensely and is now one of the top 20 writers of professional liability insurance in the country.

This role puts Jenkins in constant contact with physicians and he aims to bring their perspective to the boards of both Rex and UNC Health Care. In 2014, Jenkins told the Triangle Business Journal that this input has been welcomed by both boards.

“I think we quickly realized that we’re not very effective unless we’re on board with the docs, and the docs are on board with us,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins was a steadying force as Rex became a part of the UNC Health Care network and Jenkins has been a wonderful addition to the UNC Health Care Board of Directors, currently serving as the group’s vice-chair.

In 2014, Jenkins was recognized by the Triangle Business Journal with the Health Care Heroes Lifetime Achievement Award. Commenting on Rex joining the UNC Health Care system, Jenkins said: “In great business combinations you can make two plus two equal six.”

He is an active business and community leader across the Triangle and state of North Carolina, serving on many boards and commissions.

In recognition of his great leadership and vision, we are proud to award this year’s Distinguished Service Award to Dale Jenkins.