Dr. Joseph Alpert

Dr. Joseph Alpert, a cardiology specialist and editor in chief of The American Journal of Medicine, gave a Keynote speech on how many things he learned in medical school that turned out not to be true.

The annual Influential Health and Medical Leaders Awards brought Southern Arizona’s best and brightest doctors, nurses, trainers and healers under one roof to celebrate their career-long achievements.

While all work in healthcare, their backgrounds and specialties vary greatly. But the one thing everyone had in common was an appreciation for their patients.

“What makes the health and medical awards truly special is all the nominations for all the finalists that come from coworkers, family members, friends, but mainly, patients,” said Dr. Lorraine Mackstaller, a retired women’s health and cardiac physician and the event’s emcee.

The 2019 awards ceremony was the largest in its five-year history. Tucson Local Media received 86 nominations in 20 different healthcare categories. All the nominations were presented to special judges who decided which nominees deserve distinct praise within their fields.

Inside Tucson Business and Tucson Local Media President and Publisher Jason Joseph said Pima County is lucky to have such amazing medical professionals to rely on.

“Day in and day out, medical professionals and organizations throughout Pima County work tirelessly to keep our community happy, healthy and safe,” Joseph said. “These people deserve our thanks and appreciation.”

After Dr. Joseph Alpert, a cardiology specialist and editor in chief of The American Journal of Medicine, gave the Keynote speech on how many things he learned in medical school that turned out not to be true, Mackstaller announced the winners. Each one spent their 15 seconds of fame thanking coworkers, loved ones and patients.

Rina Abrams-Dunn, recipient of the Outstanding Behavioral Health award, worked for 16 years as a clinical social worker helping populations of homeless and runaway youth, domestic violence survivors, children in foster care and LGBTQ individuals in crisis. But her most meaningful work has been possible through military service.

She now works as an embedded clinical social worker with the 48th Rescue Squadron, a pararescue unit at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. Pararescue jumpers are tasked with providing life-saving medical aid to people in remote areas and combat environments.

“My position in the AirForce with the pararescue has been not only the most challenging and exciting but also the most rewarding position in my career thus far,” Abrams-Dunn said at the ceremony. “Not only do I work with and for some of the most outstanding, highly-skilled and greatest individuals serving our country, but I’m part of an incredible dynamic team of professionals, innovators and visionaries. I am the best version of my professional self because of the great people that I work alongside.”

Dr. Pavani Chalasani, who received the award for Outstanding Oncology/Radiology, serves many patients with dim outcomes through her work specializing in breast cancer treatment at the University of Arizona. However, she has found that they always find ways to push through their hardships, and they make doctors like her more compassionate in the process.

“The key, I would say, are my patients because they make me a better physician by teaching me how to face adversity,” Chalasani said.

Dr. John Carter, the winner of the Outstanding Senior Health award, said he is close to retirement age himself, but continues to care for his senior patients because they are an inspiration to him. He thanked Tucson Local Media for putting together an event that highlights the work of those who care for others.

“We in healthcare work very hard these days, and it’s nice to be honored for what you do,” Carter said.

The evening closed with remarks from this year’s Lifetime Achievement award winner, Dr. Sheldon Marks. As one of the top vasectomy reversal experts in the world, Marks has written textbooks and published papers on the subject and developed specialized surgical tools for better outcomes.

His patients not only travel from across the country, but the world for him to perform their vasectomy reversals. Dr. Marks has worked in several communities across the United States, but maintains that Tucson has some of the best physicians around.

“That’s what makes Tucson really great,” he said. “When I first came here many decades ago, I was really impressed with the kinds of doctors in healthcare we had in Tucson and I am so very impressed and always disappointed when I talk to people elsewhere and realize they just aren’t as lucky as we are.”