The best and brightest of Texas family medicine were honored November 11, as the 2023 TAFP award winners were announced in Grapevine during the Annual Session and Primary Care Summit.
Texas Family Physician of the Year: Ronald L. Cook, DO, MBA
Ron Cook is the Chief Health Officer for the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, where he is also a tenured professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. He has served as medical director for the City of Lubbock Health Department since 2015 and Health Authority for the city since 2009.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cook became a trusted local expert for the city of Lubbock and the wider West Texas area. During a press conference he uttered the phrase “The virus ain’t got no legs!” The line quickly took hold of the Lubbock community, getting printed on t-shirts and a bobblehead of him, and becoming a sort of local battle cry to keep people safely at home to avoid transmission. Numerous colleagues nominated Cook for his warm approach and ability to give comfort and hope during uncertain times.
Despite the many administrative responsibilities with the university, Dr. Cook has maintained a large and loyal panel of patients, as well as provided inpatient coverage as an attending with the Texas Tech Family Medicine Residency Program in Lubbock.
In accepting the award, Cook thanked his family, his coworkers, and the public health team in Lubbock who worked with him during COVID. “That was a lot of work, but we just showed up to do our work,” he said. “That’s just what we do as family physicians, and who better to do it? Who better to lead than those of us who have this broad training that can do anything and everything that you ask us to do?”
Cook also took a moment to advise the future family doctors attending the awards ceremony.
"To my young colleagues, the students, say ‘yes’ more than ‘no.’ It opens lots of doors. You never know where it’s going to take you. I’ve never regretted saying ‘yes.'”
Public Health Award: Alyssa Molina, MD, MPH
Molina is faculty at the Conroe Family Medicine Residency Program, and previously practiced full-scope family medicine in Eagle Lake, Texas, which included inpatient medicine and obstetrics in a critical access hospital. She also serves on the Colorado County Local Health Authority and as medical director for the Colorado County EMS, as well as being involved with the state’s Perinatal Advisory Council.
As her community was significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Molina worked to set up treatment and transfer protocols for the county, and collaborated with the regional medical director to make sure they received necessary supplies and medications when urban facilities stopped accepting transfers. She was instrumental in organizing local and countywide vaccine clinics, resulting in thousands of at-risk citizens receiving the vaccine early.
Her nominator, Russell Thomas, DO, called her efforts “nothing short of heroic,” saying that her work on behalf of the county reflects the “true dedication of a compassionate physician.”
TAFP Foundation Philanthropist of the Year: Mary Nguyen, MD, and Lloyd Van Winkle, MD
Nguyen and Van Winkle have both been generous donors to the TAFP Foundation for many years. With their sponsorship of the Foundation fundraising event at Annual Session and Primary Care Summit last week, they crossed over to the Pioneer level of giving – the highest level in the cumulative donor program. They have both served on the Foundation Board of Trustees and they frequently volunteer to review scholarship applications or other activities that keep the Foundation moving.
They are in private practice together in Castroville, Texas. In addition to being generous donors themselves, they are excellent at encouraging others to give. They also personally work toward the Foundation’s mission by nurturing medical students and residents in their practice.
Patient Advocacy Award: Representative Suleman Lalani, MD
Lalani represents Texas House District 76, which encompasses parts of Fort Bend County, including Sugar Land and cities around it. This year was his first term with the Texas House of Representatives. He has been in private practice in the greater Houston area for the last 20 years, and is triple board certified in internal medicine, geriatric medicine, and hospice and palliative medicine.
In his first legislative session this year, Lalani was instrumental in the state’s increased investment of the Texas primary care workforce. Thanks to his and his colleagues’ efforts, the state created the Rural Resident Physician Grant Program, as well as increased funding for the Family Practice Residency Program, for the Physician Education Loan Repayment Program, and for the Texas Primary Care Preceptorship Program.
Diversity and Health Equity Leadership Award: Victoria Udezi, MD, MPH
Udezi is the director of Diversity and Inclusion for the Department of Family and Community Medicine at UT Southwestern in Dallas, and the assistant program director of the Community Medicine Fellowship there. She also co-directs the community health rotation, the Health Equity Advocacy and Research Training Track, and the Global Health Track.
Udezi is a strong advocate for health equity through education, scholarship, and community engagement, mentoring trainees on projects that advance health equity. Under her DEI leadership and through departmental and community collaborations, the department has implemented bias trainings, revision of recruitment efforts, an annual department anti-racism challenge, and more. She lectures on topics like addressing health inequities, social determinants of health, race-based algorithms, imposter syndrome, and human trafficking.
Full-Time Faculty Exemplary Teaching Award: Mark T. Nadeau, MD
Nadeau is the program director for the UT Health San Antonio Department of Family and Community Medicine Residency Program, as well as faculty at the UT Health San Antonio Long School of Medicine and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He is a distinguished teaching professor and founding member of the Long School of Medicine’s Academy of Educational Scholars. Nadeau also serves as a board member for the TAFP Alamo Chapter.
Having been honored with many teaching awards over the years, Nadeau most recently won the UT Health Presidential Award for Teaching Excellence in 2017. Nadeau served for 27 years as an Air Force officer and was awarded the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal three times for his outstanding and distinguished service.
His nominators said that Nadeau sets the tone for a lifetime of learning, and tailors his teaching style to accommodate diverse learning needs. They also said he promotes curiosity and critical thinking, providing feedback and autonomy in a way that allows residents to grow. And lastly, Nadeau works hard to expand the awareness of primary care among medical students.
Presidential Award of Merit: Sue S. Bornstein, MD, MACP
Bornstein brought the concept of the “Medical Home” to Texas a decade ago, and currently serves as the executive director of the Texas Medical Home Initiative and co-chair of the Texas Primary Care Consortium. In 2005, Bornstein became the first woman in Baylor University Medical Center’s 100-year history to be elected as president of the medical staff.
TAFP Past President Emily Briggs, MD, MPH, chose Bornstein for the award based on her commitment to Texas patients. “While she may not be a family physician,” Briggs said, “Dr. Bornstein exemplifies the virtues of a family doc and is committed to excellence for her patients and her community. She is a tireless advocate for all patients in the state and beyond, and leads with wisdom, strategy, and passion towards a healthier tomorrow for all Texans.”