School of Medicine Faculty and Staff Honored with Duke's Presidential Award

Monday, February 10, 2020
Duke University Presidential Seal

The Presidential Awards recognize individuals and teams who made distinctive contributions to Duke University and Health System and have demonstrated its institutional values of respect, trust, inclusion, diversity and excellence during the 2018-19 academic year. The awards are the highest honor given by Duke to staff and faculty members.  Read about this years honorees and make plans to attend the awards ceremony at 4 p.m., February 25, in Page Auditorium which is open to all. 

Team Recipients

105 Members of the Duke Health Development and Alumni Affairs Team

<img alt="In April, a gas explosion on Duke St. claimed two lives and rocked downtown Durham. Photo by Leanora Minai." src="/sites/" style="float:right; height:219px; margin-left:8px; margin-right:8px; width:350px" /> In April, a gas explosion on Duke St. claimed two lives and rocked downtown Durham. Photo by Leanora Minai.

In the chaotic aftermath of the deadly gas explosion that rocked downtown Durham on April 10, 2019, Ellen Medearis, vice president for Duke Health Development and Alumni Affairs, saw the depth of the bond between members of her team.

Moments earlier, they’d been working in the unit’s offices, which sat next to a section of Duke Street where the explosion occurred. But immediately after the blast, team members led one another out of the damaged building to safety, and after ensuring everyone was out, they tended to injured co-workers.

“I remember so clearly seeing team members embrace and watch over their colleagues, making sure that they got care by flagging down police cars, and then helping the injured into ambulances,” Medearis said in her nomination letter. "“I am humbled and proud to lead this team, whose members merit recognition for bravery, camaraderie, endurance, innovation, and resilience on the day of, and in the months following, the explosion.” 

Code Blue First Responders at Duke University Hospital

Betsy Hames Betsy Hames  survived a heart attack thanks to quick action of her colleagues. 

On October 15, 2018, Betsy Hames, Duke University School of Medicine Associate Dean and Chief Human Resources Officer, went into sudden cardiac arrest while working at her desk. Within moments, co-workers summoned help and started working to recesutate her. With help from 16 employees, including the Duke Facilities Management staff member who commandeered an elevator, Hames’ co-workers who led the way for help to arrive and first responders who administered vital care, Hames’ life was saved.

“The quick action of these individuals during this critical event resulted in an extraordinarily positive outcome,” Mary Klotman, Duke University School of Medicine Dean and Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs wrote in the nomination. 

Advanced Practice Providers of the Breast Surgical Oncology Team

In addition to being compassionate guides for patients undergoing care for breast cancer, the nine women on this team have worked to make Duke’s care more efficient and effective. By constantly looking out for the needs of the patients and spearheading outreach efforts, the group has become an integral part of Duke’s cancer care.

“The nine incredible women who make up the Duke Breast Surgery APP team form a strong link between patients and the health system, and provide both high quality care and strong advocacy for patients who face the frightening diagnosis of breast cancer,” wrote Shelley Hwang, Chief of Breast Surgical Oncology and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Surgery.

Individual Recipients

Nicole Heilbron, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences

Nicole Heilbron, PhD Nicole Heilbron, PhD

With an ability to draw the best out of her colleagues, Heilbron has become one of her department’s most admired leaders. She’s also re-envisioned the clinical services the department offers, bringing about changes that better serve the needs of patients.

“The effectiveness of clinical services in meeting patient needs has been at the forefront of Dr. Heilbron’s work, across clinics and programs,” wrote Moira Rynn, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “Quality improvement analyses have demonstrated the success of her efforts to anticipate and meet the needs of patients, provide cost-savings to the system, and maximize the ability of our mental health workforce to meet the needs of the patients and families seeking care.”

Peter Kussin, Professor of Medicine, Duke Global Health Institute

Peter Kussin, MD Peter Kussin, MD

During his 34-year career, Kussin treated some of Duke University Hospital’s most difficult cases and provided care for patients in Southeast Asia following a tsunami, Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina and rural Kenya, where he spends four months each year.

“Clearly Peter has had a deep impact on the future of medicine through his dedication to teaching both locally and globally, but, more so, he has led by example throughout his career, illustrating compassion, humility, and the highest standards of excellence,” wrote Kathleen Cooney, chair of the Department of Medicine.


Meet the rest of the Presidential Award winners and register to attend the ceremony.