Matthew Bizzarro, MD, was surprised when he answered a call from a coworker on his way home from work to tell him he’d been recognized with the David J. Leffell Prize for Clinical Excellence. He didn’t even know he had been nominated. “I was a bit overwhelmed. I knew the prestige associated with it and I was incredibly touched and honored,” he said.
His first thought wasn’t about his position as medical director for the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), or his years of dedication to medical research and clinical care, but about his team. “It was difficult to think I’ve been singled out given the quality of the [neonatology] group,” he said. “I would challenge anyone to find a better group of clinicians. Any one of them would deserve this award.”
Dr. Bizzarro’s colleagues know exactly why he was chosen as the eighth recipient of the annual Leffell prize, which was established eight years ago with a gift from David J. Leffell, MD, professor of dermatology and surgery, and section chief of dermatologic surgery and cutaneous oncology. Dr. Leffell initiated the prize with his wife, Cindy, in honor of his 30th Yale College reunion.
“In my 33 years at Yale, I have never met a physician more dedicated to quality patient care and clinical education,” wrote Mark Mercurio, MD, MA, chief of neonatal-perinatal medicine, in a letter supporting Dr. Bizzarro’s nomination. “I helped train him and currently serve as his section chief. Still I, like everyone else here, strive to be as good a clinician as Matt. He is the one we would want if our child or grandchild was critically ill.”
Dr. Bizzarro, an associate professor, joined Yale as a fellow in 2002, and has served as director of the Pediatric Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Program and the NICU transport team, and assistant director of the pediatric medical school clerkship. He participates in his field on both local and international levels, in such groups as the Central Line Associated Bloodstream Infection Committee, which won an award from the Department of Health and Human Services for outstanding leadership.
He became medical director of the NICU in 2012. “He has maintained oversite and hands-on involvement in virtually every aspect of clinical care,” said Dr. Mercurio. “He runs it brilliantly.”
While Dr. Bizzarro “always gravitated toward children and critical care” during his medical education at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, he said he found his true calling in neonatology at Yale. “The environment was what brought me here and what caused me to stay,” he said, describing a “close-knit group and laid-back environment” that fosters excellence in clinical care while providing support for people with high-stress jobs.
The connections a doctor forms with patients and families in the NICU are especially rewarding, he said. ”Watching babies you’ve spent months taking care of go home with their families is an overwhelming feeling.”
Dean Robert J. Alpern, MD, presented this year’s award at a ceremony on April 26 in the Beaumont Room in the Sterling Hall of Medicine. Dr. Bizzarro’s colleagues attended the event, as well as his wife, Wendy, a pediatric critical care nurse, and the couple’s two young daughters. “I owe so much of what I do to them,” Dr. Bizzarro said. “Without them, none of this would have happened, and I’ve never had the opportunity to publicly thank them.”