Week 18: Making Our Mothers Proud

This has been a meaningful week for the department of medicine (DoM) in many ways. I will start with last Wednesday’s visit from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky to the UCLA CARE Center. The UCLA CARE Center is UCLA’s clinical and clinical research home for HIV/AIDS and associated conditions. Before Dr. Walensky arrived, I had the privilege and distinct pleasure of meeting with the staff and faculty in the CARE center who lead our nationally recognized HIV programs. Their passion for the patients that they serve and strong commitment to their mission of excellent patient care, research and training of the next generation of specialist clinicians was palpable. Dr. Walensky joined the center directors Dr. Judith Currier and Dr. Raphael Landovitz for a tour of the facility and a moderated discussion with CARE faculty, staff, and trainees. The discussion began with current perspectives on the SARS-CoV2 pandemic, vaccines, and public health. Questions from CARE center members led to sharing of perspectives on health care equality/disparities, fighting mis- and disinformation, and the role of social media in public health. Dr. Walensky shared some of her aspirations for the future of the CDC under her leadership, including goals of improving the public health infrastructure and disease agnostic workforce. She also provided career development advice to current trainees.

We also appreciate Dr. Walensky's shout-out to UCLA on Twitter:

Picture on left: Dr.Rochelle Walensky, Dr. Judith Currier, and Dr. Raphael Landowitz
Picture on right: Faculty and staff at UCLA CARE Center with Dr. Rochelle Walensky

It seems that a week does not pass when another member of the DoM is recognized for their contributions to one of our core missions. This week I highlight Dr. Neveen S. El-Farra, who was one of 9 recipients of the 2020 Distinguished Teaching Award, honored last week by the Academic Senate and Center for the Advancement of Teaching. It is noteworthy that Dr. El-Farra was the only member of the DGSOM faculty who received the honor that year, and I am more than pleased that the honor to a member of the DGSOM went to one of our faculty in the DoM.

Neveen S. El-Farra, MD

The Distinguished Teaching Awards — UCLA’s highest honor for teaching — are usually presented during a special ceremony at the Chancellor’s Residence. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 ceremony could not be held. Winners are chosen based on a range of criteria:

  • Impact on students, specifically playing a key role in students’ success, offering advice and guidance on career plans, or serving as a significant influence in students’ lives
  • Efforts to create a learning environment in which diverse students can succeed
  • Using innovative teaching methods and/or curriculum
  • Involvement in community outreach activities


Learn more about these distinguished colleagues HERE.

Alice Kuo, MD

This week marked a milestone in our medicine-pediatrics program with the announcement of Dr. Gifty Ntim as the new program director, succeeding Dr. Alice Kuo who served in this role for the past 19 years. Let me share some words shared by Alice’s colleagues marking her tenure in that role.

“Alice, so many of us wouldn't be here without your visionary leadership and constant effort to build a program and division that equip us to innovatively care for so many marginalized populations. We're so grateful for everything you've built and are also thankful that you'll still remain our chief and mentor as always!”

- Dr. Daniel Kozman

Alice, you’ve defined med-peds at UCLA for so long and served as a mentor to so many of us. Having firsthand witnessed a new med-peds program still learning to find its way grow into one of the premier programs in the country under your leadership has been an incredible journey to be on. None of that would have been possible without your leadership, dedication, countless sleepless nights, and unwavering commitment to making med-peds at UCLA feel like a family.

Gifty, you have some enormous shoes to fill, but having worked alongside you for many years now, I know without a doubt that you’ll do an amazing job.  And you have our full support behind you to make sure the residency program only continues to excel.” – Dr. Eric Curcio“Alice, it has been an absolute honor and privilege to train under your watchful eye for the past two years. A large part of the reason that I, and so many residents before me, dreamed of training at UCLA was because of you. I feel so lucky to have experienced your wisdom and fierce advocacy; it was even more impressive than I anticipated. This is truly a devastating loss for our residency, but I trust your experience and look forward to seeing you continue to thrive as chief of med-peds.
Dr. Ntim, we are so very excited to welcome you as our new med-peds pd! The selection committee was wise to place you at the helm and we are all so eager to see all that you have in store for us.

– Dr. Nate VanderVeen
Gifty-Maria J. Ntim, MD, MPh

Dr. Ntim brings to this role a strong commitment to continuing the legacy of the program for providing care to many who are under-served and marginalized in our communities. Dr. Ntim has served as an associate program director of the primary care medicine program, and she was previously medical director of AIDS Project LA prior to joining our division. She is a leader in LGBTQ+ education at DGSOM and has developed innovative curricula in this field.

Welcome Gifty and thank you Alice for your years of service in this role.

Our faculty continue to pave the way in research and innovation. Dr. Phil Scumpia's recently published work in Nature portfolio journal Light: Science and Applications described a novel technique of making biopsy-free, histological determinations of skin lesions using machine learning.

Phillip O. Scumpia, MD

He leveraged this advance to obtain a 4-year award totaling $779,012 from the American Cancer Society entitled: Biopsy-free virtual histology for non-invasive melanoma diagnosis. The grant will support studies that will combine non-invasive skin imaging by reflectance confocal microscopy with machine learning to deliver histology-quality images of skin to diagnose melanoma or nevi without requiring invasive biopsy. The overall goal is to develop a way to treat suspicious skin lesions earlier, while avoiding unnecessary biopsy.

Leading edge research must continue to be a major facet of the DoM’s mission that will set us apart as leaders in health care delivery and innovation. Our leadership in research supports our clinical and education missions. Patients will choose to come to us when they see that our faculty not only deliver compassionate and cutting-edge care, but importantly will come to us because we lead in generating new therapies and diagnostic approaches. Therefore, it is essential for us to not lose sight of our research mission as an academic department of medicine. A commitment to ensuring that we attract, train and retain the most talented physician scientists, and Ph.D. investigators will be a central pillar of our strategic plan. Even as we celebrate our successes in publications and grants, there are many opportunities for us to do better. The plan will be multi-pronged but will include examining how well we provide ongoing mentorship to our early-stage research faculty, how we build a culture in which, we actively promote our best, in terms of nomination for national awards and honors.

One of the big challenges that I have encountered in my tenure thus far, is identification and allocation of physical space to ensure that we can continue to expand our research enterprise. The solutions are not easy and will entail a close examination of how we are using the space currently allocated to our department. It will be easier for us to advocate for more, when we can demonstrate that we are optimizing what we currently have. I will be studying this closely as our future depends on this, and I firmly believe that we should not allow physical constraints to limit our ambitions and aspirations. More to follow on this.

Finally, let me thank many of you who sent me heartfelt notes of congratulations following the news of my election to the National Academy of Sciences.

This recognition of the research accomplishments of my laboratory over the years, is a testament to the contributions of many trainees and collaborators and of course the support and guidance of my own mentors. I have learned much from my mentees and the creativity with which they have tackled challenging research questions. I understand that there are now 2 members of the National Academy of Sciences in the DoM, as I join Dr. Stephen Young in cardiology. I strongly believe that there are others in the DoM, whose work is putting them on a trajectory towards the academy. We should work together to ensure that this happens, while not losing sight of those in the pipeline, who are beginning their journeys of scientific discovery.



For all the mothers in the DoM, I hope that you received extra love and attention from your families on Mother’s Day yesterday, and that someone else did the cooking.  When we talked, my mother reminded me to how proud she was of all her children, especially when her neighbors bring things that we do to her attention.

From my 4 sibs and me and your 7 grandchildren, happy Mother’s Day Mrs. Abel!

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