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Faculty Award Recipients Shape Their Fields, Share Their Passions

Each year the Faculty Senate recognizes three members of the University of Miami community who represent exemplary teaching, service, and scholarly work. This years award recipients include three faculty members from the Miller School of Medicine that were nominated and selected by their peers, based on significant contributions to the University of Miami. The award recipients are honored during the annual ceremony, which is scheduled for Monday, April 11, at 5 p.m.

Transforming Medical Education

Amar Deshpande, M.D.
Amar Deshpande, M.D.

Recipient of the 2021-22 Outstanding Teaching Award, Amar R. Deshpande, M.D., professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology at the Miller School of Medicine—began his undergraduate career at the University of Miami in the 1990s. He earned a bachelor’s degree and his medical degree at the University before launching his professional career in 2008 teaching and working at the Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami Health System, Jackson Memorial Hospital, and Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“In medical school, I was drawn to gastrointestinal physiology and mechanisms of disease, but also wanted a foundation in internal medicine,” Dr. Deshpande explained. “I love the mix of inpatient and outpatient care and cognitive and procedural activities.” As a resident in internal medicine and a fellow in gastroenterology, he enjoyed teaching concepts in his field. He took advantage of opportunities to be an instructor later on by serving as a faculty member and developing expertise, specifically in inflammatory bowel disease.

Noted by colleagues among the University’s most impactful and innovative educators, Dr. Deshpande is considered one of the ‘‘master educators’’ in the Department of Medicine. During his tenure as director, he transformed the Gastroenterology Fellowship Training Program and expanded the program’s success with a significant improvement in evaluations and metrics. Along with creating the curriculum and schedule, he helped secure funding for the unique fellowship that allows graduates to pursue an extra year of subspecialized training in inflammatory bowel disease at the University of Miami Crohn’s and Colitis Center.

A nationally recognized educator, Dr. Deshpande is a founding member of the American Gastroenterological Association’s Academy of Educators and serves on a number of medical educational committees. On numerous occasions, he has been nominated by students and has received more than a dozen awards for excellence in teaching and mentorship. He serves as associate dean for medical education and administration, vice chair for education in the Department of Medicine, and chair of the NextGenMD Advisory Committee at the Miller School of Medicine, among other leadership roles. As chair of the NextGenMD group, Dr. Deshpande spent several years developing and launching the largest curriculum renewal in the history of the medical school. This was done in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Dr. Deshpande, without a doubt, has applied himself to the fullest in all areas of academic life and serves as a role model for students, residents, fellows, and faculty alike,” said Dr. Roy E. Weiss, professor of medicine and chair of the Department of Medicine, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “Equally outstanding is his clinical expertise, excellent track record of scholarly work, and exceptional service to the University and the community at large. He is an exemplary physician who excels in all areas of academic life.”

With admirable and sustained educational activities and curriculum development, both locally and nationally, Dr. Deshpande serves as faculty director for the Miller School’s Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Department of Community Service (DOCS), a nationally awarded student-run organization that runs health fairs and clinics. Each year, the DOCS program serves more than 3,000 patients with little or no access to non-emergent health care in preventive, primary care, and subspecialty settings.

An avid Miami sports fan, Dr. Deshpande enjoys spending time with his family and attending local sporting events. He has been a member of the University’s Iron Arrow Honor Society since 2011 and he was selected for the American College of Gastroenterology Community Service Award in 2017.

A Passion for Social Justice, Caregiving, and Mentorship

Stephen Symes, M.D.
Stephen Symes, M.D.

Nominated for the 2021-22 James W. McLamore Outstanding Service Award by a group of peers at the University of Miami School of Law, Stephen N. Symes, M.D., is an associate professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Miller School of Medicine, and internist at the University of Miami—Jackson Memorial Medical Center. When not caring for adult patients or training medical students and residents, he spends his time working with immigrants and underserved communities, including clients of the Law School Clinics, and promoting diversity within the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Among his accomplishments during the past 16 years working at the University, Dr. Symes founded and serves as the medical director of the Human Rights Clinic of Miami, an independent collection of medical students, residents, and attending physicians who commit their time and ability to provide free, impartial physical and psychiatric evaluations for asylum seekers and refugees in the United States. Participants volunteer their clinical services to provide objective evidence for the court while connecting patients to specialized care and learning how to best help marginalized patient populations.

Dr. Symes has worked closely with the School of Law’s Health Rights Clinic to advocate for patients to ensure that they receive disability and other benefits to which they are entitled. Along with testifying in immigration court, he travels—at times many hours over several days—to complete evaluations and affidavits for clients in immigration detention centers.

Dr. Symes’ work with the law clinics has benefited not only the South Florida community but the University of Miami’s most important constituents—the students, according to a consensus among School of Law faculty members Romy Lerner, JoNel Newman, Rebecca Sharpless, Melissa Swain, and Kale Stewart. Dr. Symes and his team help fulfill one of the law clinics’ central missions—providing law students with the opportunity to learn important legal skills associated with working with expert witnesses. According to the group, Symes has shown both law and medical students the importance of public service and how they can promote social justice and equity in their professional lives.

Two years into medical school at Howard University College of Medicine, Dr. Symes realized that his role, which involved seeing patients at their bedside, talking through symptoms with them, and overall problem-solving, was the perfect fit. “When you are in front of that person—struggling to breathe, crying in pain, or desperate for help—you learn fast about making a meaningful difference,” he explained.

Since 1994, Dr. Symes has cared for adult HIV-infected patients with the Division of Infectious Diseases, and has seen primary care patients at the Center for Haitian Studies. Additionally, he works with T.H.R.I.V.E.—Trafficking Healthcare Resources and Interdisciplinary Victim Services and Education—providing integrated care for victims of human trafficking, many of whom have extensive trauma, post traumatic stress disorder, and depression. His work caring for individuals with a history of significant trauma extends from his training with Physicians for Human Rights network on torture asylum and experience conducting workshops for other health care professionals.

As part of his role at the Miller School Department of Medicine, Dr. Symes developed and currently directs the Jay Weiss Residency in Internal Medicine and Global Equity, a four-year residency program to train future physician leaders in global and domestic health program administration and advocacy, preparing them to affect change in health and social policy. Participants are eligible for certification by the American Board of Internal Medicine, and completion of a master’s degree in public health through the school’s Department of Public Health Sciences.

“I was so fortunate to have mentors in medical school at Howard University, Jackson Memorial Hospital, and the University of Miami who opened doors for me in teaching, education, and leadership,” acknowledged Dr. Symes. “It brought me a career that includes taking care of HIV patients, a unique population that is vulnerable and stigmatized, and teaching the next generation of future providers in the Miami milieu.”

As associate dean for diversity and inclusion with the Miller School Office of Diversity and Inclusion, he develops programs to recruit, enhance, and retain a diverse and culturally competent health care workforce at the student-resident and faculty level at the University of Miami. Each year, he works closely as a teacher and mentor of minority participants in several University medical school prep programs, giving these individuals an opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge about medicine as a career. His conversations and interactions with gifted, young minority learners often take place after hours, on weekends—in health fairs or conference rooms, community settings, and even homes, usually in-person, but more recently on platforms like Zoom.

Growing up in Jamaica among a predominantly Black population, Dr. Symes describes the “gentle drift” that led him to pursue medicine as the combination of a mother who was a “wonderful teacher,” a primary doctor who was a “great role model,” and a quality education that gave him the confidence to move forward. “My experiences at Howard University—the premier historically black academic institution with leaders at every level looking like me—instilled confidence that I would excel and succeed in any setting,” he proudly noted.

A member of the Iron Arrow Honor Society since 2017, he has traveled to Haiti as a mentor and faculty member on three separate Medishare trips since 2006.

Paving the Road of Gene Research

Margaret Pericak-Vance, Ph.D.
Margaret Pericak-Vance, Ph.D.

For more than three decades, Margaret “Peggy” Pericak-Vance, Ph.D., the Dr. John T. McDonald Foundation professor in human genetics and director of the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, has made significant, international impacts on the field of human genetics. Over the course of her scientific career, she has altered the paradigm of human genetics from a focus on rare diseases to common ones, demonstrating the incredible value of the Human Genome Project.

Since the 1980s, Dr. Pericak-Vance has played a key role in the early mapping of more than 50 rare Mendelian diseases and became an early leader in applying statistical methods to rare genetic diseases, the only conditions that could be deciphered at the time. Once largely a mystery, her work with the human genome broke through the technical and psychological barriers preventing examination of genetic variation influencing common diseases. Her work identifies genetic factors that cause disease, leading to the discovery of new drug targets for treatments.

“The impact of the work of Margaret Pericak-Vance on human genetics research cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Susan Halloran Blanton, professor of human genetics and otolaryngology, and associate director of collaborations and compliance at the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics. “Her foundational discoveries turned accepted thinking about genetics on its head, and the impact has reached far beyond Alzheimer’s—helping to shape the field of modern human genetics and the path it would follow for decades.”

Dr. Pericak-Vance’s novel findings on the APOE gene created a seismic shift and transformed how researchers approached genetics and genomics. She cemented her role as leader in human genetics following her discovery that the APOE-4 variant increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Beyond those findings, she identified genetic risk and protective factors for conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, multiple sclerosis, and autism.

“Her groundbreaking findings will continue to lead to better diagnoses and new treatments for millions of patients worldwide,” added Halloran Blanton. “Few have been so prolific and so deeply influential in this field and so ahead of their time in actively making diversity a priority in their studies and their teams.”

A leading advocate for diversity in research, Dr. Pericak-Vance strives to ensure that new therapies benefit all. She works tirelessly with South Florida communities to educate others on the importance of participation in gene research and the effects of genomics on the future of health care. In addition to the 2021-22 Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award, she is the winner of multiple international awards, including the “Louis D” Scientific Prize from the Institut de France for research on genetics of Alzheimer Disease in 2001, is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine. Her publication (Corder et al, Science 1993) remains the most-cited original research paper in Alzheimer’s research of the past 50 years, according to Halloran Blanton.

Inspired by a lifelong interest in her family’s Sicilian history, Dr. Pericak-Vance found her passion for human genetics while majoring in biology as an undergraduate student. A tenured Miller School of Medicine professor who has taught human genetics and neurology since joining in 2007, Dr. Pericak-Vance has been married to and worked side by side with her husband, Dr. Jeffery M. Vance, for more than 44 years. “The most important thing to me is family, more important than any success that I could ever achieve,” she emphasized, describing their three children as her greatest accomplishments. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and traveling.

Tags: Dr. Amar Deshpande, Dr. Margaret Pericak-Vance, Dr. Stephen Symes, Faculty Senate Awards, Miller School of Medicine