Influential Health Medical Leaders

Local professionals honored at annual banquet

The curtains behind the stage were lit up with emerald green at Tucson Local Media and Inside Tucson Business’ Influential Health and Medical Awards banquet. But audience members didn’t need to go behind them to find some of the best examples of heart, brains and courage in the community.

“Day in and day out, organizations, doctors, nurses and individuals work tirelessly in Pima County in order to keep us healthy, heal sickness and disease, strive for organizational excellence and to improve our lives,” said Jason Joseph, president and publisher of Tucson Local Media.

Medical leaders in 20 different categories were honored at the Sept. 27 ceremony, selected out of 130 nominees and 60 finalists. Dr. David Teeple, an adult neurology physician and director of the stroke program at Tucson Medical Center’s Center for Neurosciences, served as emcee for the event.

 The Heart of the Matter

Dr. Scott Berman, medical director for the Rocky Mountain Vascular Quality Initiative, was the winner of the Outstanding Neurology/Vascular Award. Onstage, he thanked everyone for the honor of being nominated, and spoke about how much he had always been inspired by his father.

“I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” he said.

His father wasn’t a vascular surgeon—he was a World War II veteran who never had the opportunity to go to college. But he used to tell Berman something that stuck with him for the rest of his life: “If you just focus on being the best, everything else will fall into place.”

Berman earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, but he opened up a vascular surgery practice in Tucson in 1994, and has been in the field ever since.

“Chemical engineering is pumps and pipes, and vascular surgery is a lot of pumps and pipes,” he said after the ceremony.

For Rachel Gordon, winner of the award for Outstanding Nurse, the heart is also a place to hold memories. When she took the stage, she recalled a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”

“I have a table full of footprints, and I have a life full of touched memories that only nursing can provide,” she said.

Gordon said she didn’t see the award coming—her reaction was best summed up as a “holy moly, where did that come from?” And, while she’s grateful for the opportunity to touch patients’ lives, she said she’s even more grateful for the mark that her patients have left on her.

“Nursing is the avenue that has allowed me to create intimate relationships with strangers that I would never be able to meet,” she said. “You have an opportunity to let them imprint you, and you grow from that relationship.”

Brainpower

Carlos A. Hernández, president and CEO of Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Southern Arizona, received the Outstanding Psychiatric Mental Health Award, and said it came as a shock. In fact, his first thought when he heard he’d been nominated was “how sweet.” But, as he sat there and read his own short bio in the pamphlet provided at the awards, it hit him for the first time.

“Wow, maybe I do have a chance,” he said. “I never really thought about how my entire adult life, I was focused on this. I guess I was proud of myself.”

When he took the stage, he thanked Tucson Local Media and spoke about how honored he was to have been selected out of such an impressive group of nominees. He also took a moment to speak on how proper treatments for mental health are just as important as treatments for physical health.

“May we come together to make Tucson a healthier community,” he said.

Thick Skin

They say that to be courageous, you have to have thick skin.

Dr. David S. Alberts, director emeritus of the University of Arizona Cancer Center and winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, is sort of an expert in that area. He’s dedicated his life to serving cancer patients, and has been involved in research for medication to treat leukemia, for finding the most effective ways to administer cancer-fighting drugs, and for developing preventative treatments—like a drug that literally thickens the skin of older people to help fight skin cancer.  

Growing up, he said, his family was “riddled with cancer”—his mom and grandma had breast cancer, and his dad died of colon cancer at only 36. And then, at age 13, he suffered from Ulcerative colitis, and was kicked into gear.

“I went from being a so-so student to an outstanding student,’ he said. “Because I was motivated, I wanted to learn about science. I wanted to be a part of the team that cured cancer.”

For all of his work at university cancer centers, in drug research and development and even in authoring and co-authoring textbooks to foster the next generations of brave medical professionals, Dr. Alberts has brought the medical community ever closer to that cure. But, like his colleagues throughout the night, he emphasized that building a better community and world is a group effort.

“I came to Tucson 42 years ago with my wonderful wife of 54 years kicking and screaming,” he said. “She’s been my real strength and I want to thank her for everything that she does.”

The audience burst into applause in gratitude for both Dr. Alberts and his wife, and for the first responders, dentists, veterinarians and other medical professionals who ensure every day that there really is no place like Tucson.