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5 Faculty Members Honored for Clinical Excellence

April 02, 2024
by Barbara Steinberger

At a ceremony on March 25, 2024, in the Medical Historical Library at Yale School of Medicine, Professor of Dermatology, of Pediatrics, and of Nursing Richard Antaya, MD, was presented with the 2023 David and Cindy Leffell Prize for Clinical Excellence. Four other longtime faculty members received Distinguished Clinical Career Awards: Joachim Baehring, MD,professor of neurology and of neurosurgery; Morton Burrell, MD, professor of radiology & biomedical imaging; Joshua Copel, MD, professor of obstetrics, gynecology & reproductive sciences and of pediatrics; and Alyssa French, MD, MPH, professor of emergency medicine.

Leffell Prize for Clinical Excellence

Each year, the David and Cindy Leffell Prize for Clinical Excellence recognizes a Yale Medicine faculty member who best exemplifies clinical expertise, a commitment to teaching, and the highest standards of care and compassion for patients.

At the award ceremony, Yale School of Medicine Dean Nancy Brown read an excerpt from the letter nominating Antaya, which was written by Department of Dermatology Chair Keith Choate, MD, PhD, and Vice Chair Michael Girardi, MD.

“Dr. Antaya is an exceptional clinician-educator who embodies the highest standards of clinical expertise, patient care, and teaching,” the letter of nomination said. “His dedication to his patients and trainees is truly remarkable, and he serves as an inspiration to all who work with him.” Antaya is the first dermatologist to be selected for the Leffell Prize.

Antaya, who joined the Yale faculty in 1998, is director of pediatric dermatology and medical director of Yale Dermatology New Haven, a dermatology faculty practice. He is an authority on skin disorders affecting children and adolescents and is known for his devotion to his patients and their families. Over the years, he has built the Yale Medicine pediatric dermatology clinical practice into a center of excellence, drawing consultation requests from around the country, as well as internationally.

In addition to his commitment to patient care, Antaya is passionate about supporting the education and professional development of others, Dean Brown said. He founded and chaired the Yale Multidisciplinary Vascular Anomalies Program for 12 years, runs a weekly Pediatric Vascular Anomalies Clinic, and serves as the dermatology consultant for Yale’s HHT (Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia) Center. Antaya is director of the Pediatric Dermatology elective, which trains approximately 20 pediatrics residents per year, and he created and is director of the pediatric dermatology clinical fellowship at Yale. More than a decade ago, Antaya developed an online didactic program for the pediatrics residents, currently on Yale’s Canvas platform, to supplement the clinical experience, including numerous recorded lectures, suggested readings, and exams. Twenty-three years ago, he created the Yale Dermatology Resident Pediatric Dermatology Continuity Clinic, which was among the first of its kind and continues to be a major draw for dermatology resident applicants. Nationally, he served as president of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology and co-founded and co-directs one of the locations of the American Academy of Dermatology’s Camp Discovery, a summer camp for children with chronic skin disease.

Antaya said he was “deeply honored and humbled” to receive the Leffell Prize. He told the audience at the award ceremony how his approach to practicing medicine has been affected by the fact that his 29-year-old daughter was born with severe cystic fibrosis. She had a double lung transplant about eight and a half years ago.

“Living on the other side of our medical establishment has affected our family’s life and my approach to my patients and their families. With each patient encounter, I have strived to provide — and exceed — the care our family would desire from our health care providers,” Antaya said. “Living by this standard of treating everyone as I would want to be treated has provided me immeasurable fulfillment, but not without significant familial and personal sacrifice. This award, therefore, has great significance for our entire family.”

Distinguished Clinical Career Awards

The Yale Medicine Distinguished Clinical Career Award was created in 2020 to recognize and honor the careers of physicians marked by significant accomplishments, exemplary dedication, and important contributions in advancing Yale Medicine, the overall medical profession, and the community.

Joachim Baehring, MD

Baehring is a professor of neurology and of neurosurgery; associate chief of neurology; director of the Neuro-Oncology Fellowship Program; and vice chair of clinical affairs for Neurology.

Since joining the faculty of Yale School of Medicine in 2002, Baehring has built the medical Neuro-Oncology Program within Yale Cancer Center from the ground up. He established a practice for patients with primary and metastatic brain tumors, neurologic complications of cancer, and neurologic disorders of the highest complexity. He is known for his high standards of compassion and sensitivity in interactions with patients.

For more than 15 years, Baehring led the multidisciplinary Brain Tumor Center — now named the Chênevert Family Brain Tumor Center after one of his patients. He has brought clinical trials for patients afflicted with brain tumors to Yale. He established a Neuro-Oncology Patient Data Repository at the Brain Tumor Center, which serves as the basis for epidemiological, clinical, quality control studies, and basic science studies requiring correlation with clinical data.

In 2009, Baehring established the Medical Neuro-Oncology Fellowship program at Yale and served as its director for over a decade. His expertise in neuro-oncology and general neurology is sought by his colleagues at Yale and throughout Connecticut, and beyond. On a national and international level, Baehring has achieved recognition as a clinician, educator, and scholar, especially for his work on non-Hodgkin lymphoma of the nervous system.

Morton Burrell, MD

Burrell is a professor of radiology & biomedical imaging, and chief of gastrointestinal radiology. He has been an active member of the Yale medical community since 1970, when he started his radiology training at Yale New Haven Hospital. After completing his residency, he joined the Yale faculty and built a long and distinguished career over more than five decades.

Burrell is an abdominal radiologist, with expertise in gastrointestinal radiology, plain films, and fluoroscopy. Margaret McGovern, MD, PhD, deputy dean for clinical affairs and CEO of Yale Medicine, quoted one of Burrell’s colleagues in presenting the award. “Dr. Burrell is sought out by gastroenterologists like me to perform hands-on barium studies, filling a gap that can't be performed by technology alone,” wrote the colleague, Myron Brand, MD, professor of medicine (digestive diseases). “My patients frequently comment to me, after my referral to Dr. Burrell, how they appreciated his personalized care, his knowledge, and compassion. The level of personalized care that he delivers to patients is unparalleled.”

Over the decades, Burrell has enthusiastically mentored countless Yale medical students, residents, fellows, peers, and radiology technicians. He is highly respected not only by trainees, but also by the many referring physicians who specifically seek him out to interpret gastrointestinal fluoroscopic studies and assist in clinical management decisions. He has received innumerable teaching awards over the years, and has been invited to speak around the country and internationally.

“Dr. Burrell’s expertise, compassion, and unflagging energy and enthusiasm have enhanced the reputation of Yale Medicine and made a difference in the lives of his patients, trainees, and colleagues,” McGovern said.

Joshua Copel, MD

Copel is a professor of obstetrics, gynecology & reproductive sciences, and of pediatrics; vice chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences; and assistant dean for clinical affairs.

He is a maternal-fetal medicine specialist who has served on the Yale School of Medicine faculty for four decades. Copel is deeply dedicated to caring for his patients and training and mentoring Ob/Gyn residents and maternal-fetal medicine fellows, many of whom have gone on to become leaders in women’s health.

One of Copel’s most important clinical contributions to modern perinatology is prenatal diagnosis and management of fetal anemia. His innovative work on middle cerebral artery Doppler allowed this method to become the “gold standard” currently used by perinatologists around the world, McGovern said. Copel also is one of the first perinatologists who performed in utero intravascular fetal blood transfusion, saving countless fetuses’ lives. Copel is one of the world’s leading experts in fetal cardiology and echocardiogram. He authored numerous seminal manuscripts that shaped the prenatal practice guidelines that are in place today.

Copel has been tireless in his service to the university, serving on a wide range of committees and in a number of leadership roles. He has represented Yale at the national and international levels through his membership in, and leadership of, numerous professional organizations.

Alyssa French, MD, MPH

French is a professor of emergency medicine. For three decades, she has worked as an emergency medicine “nocturnist” at Yale, meaning that she exclusively works overnight shifts. She was initially recruited to Yale in 1993 in anticipation of starting an emergency medicine residency program at a time when emergency medicine at Yale was in its nascency, with relatively little recognition and without a department of its own.

In presenting the award to French, McGovern quoted Arjun Venkatesh, MD, MBA, MHS, chair of emergency medicine. “As emergency medicine has grown and evolved, Dr. French’s own long-term and consistent clinical performance has kept her as our highest volume clinician, year after year,” Venkatesh wrote. “With her career at Yale spanning three decades, it is difficult to gauge the exact number of people whose lives she has changed or saved, or mentees’ careers she has impacted, but I would estimate it to be in the hundreds of thousands.”

French is gifted at guiding residents through the unique challenges of caring for patients at night, when the unexpected is the norm; that was especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic. French is highly respected by the residents, students, and nursing team, and has a reputation for resolving challenging crises under extraordinary stress. “She exhibits grace under pressure in the clinical setting and is a role model for both aspiring and seasoned clinicians,” Venkatesh wrote. She also has been a critical component of the emergency department’s national research success, supporting numerous clinical trials and research projects by facilitating overnight patient enrollment.

“Working the night shift, where there is less back-up and fewer support resources, nocturnists are our unsung heroes,” Venkatesh wrote. “They work long shifts, and are given little recognition, yet are the pillars of our emergency department.”

Submitted by Robert Forman on April 01, 2024