Lifetime and career achievement awards carry the weight of decades of discoveries and service. They are commonly the most prestigious awards given by professional societies and organizations.

During the 2020-21 academic year, three faculty members from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health earned awards of this nature.

Robert Dempsey, MD

Dempsey, the Manucher Javid Professor and chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery, received the renowned NSA medal from the Neurosurgical Society of America in June of 2021. The award is given annually to an individual who has made transformative lifetime contributions to the field of neurosurgery locally and internationally. Dempsey was recognized for his contributions to the fields of patient care, stroke research, education, and global neurosurgery.

Robert Dempsey portrait
Robert Dempsey

Dempsey has been chair of the department for more than a quarter century and in that tenure has recruited every single faculty member currently in the department, he says.

“This team we have is incredible and has a true footing in the clinical and academic realms,” he says. “We have neurosurgeons focused on trauma, stroke, the spine, movement disorders, cancer, congenital anomalies, and more. These are conditions that impact every family in the world. We have recruited and developed people who are now international leaders in each of our areas, along with incredible junior faculty and trainees. What unites us is that we believe we provide the best care in the world, but are also never satisfied so we work to do even better through research and teaching.”

Along with building a renowned department at the School of Medicine and Public Health, Dempsey’s career has focused on training neurosurgeons across the globe. A nonprofit he leads called the Foundation for International Education in Neurological Surgery is committed to establishing training programs for neurosurgeons in areas around the world by partnering with local communities.

They have helped establish and support more than 20 training programs for physicians in Asia, Central America, South America, and Africa.

“It’s very humbling to receive this international award knowing the other talented individuals who have received it,” Dempsey says. “The biggest lesson I have learned in my career is to listen. Listen to patients and others you work with, collaborate with them, and use what skills you can provide to make their life better.”

Ned Kalin, MD

Kalin is the Hedberg Professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry. He received the 2021 Bruce McEwen Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology. The society brings together scientists with expertise in the brain, mind, and body to further understand the connections between hormones, brain function, and psychopathology.

Ned Kalin portrait
Ned Kalin

Kalin completed his residency at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in 1979 and, following a fellowship at the National Institute of Mental Health, became an assistant professor in the School of Medicine and Public Health’s Department of Psychiatry.

He has been chair of the department for 30 years, and over this time the department has gained national recognition. Kalin’s own research focuses on better understanding the factors that underlie the childhood risk of developing anxiety and depressive disorders.

He joined the International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology at the start of his career and he says the organization and its senior members took him in and were valuable mentors. Over the years he attended annual meetings, was editor of the society’s journal for 15 years, served as president in 2005, and mentored junior members.

The award recognizes outstanding scientists in the field who have made major contributions to the understanding of brain-body interactions. Formerly called the Lifetime Achievement Award, the name of Bruce E. McEwen was added in 2021 upon McEwen’s passing.

“The research and work I’ve done with the society is near and dear to my heart, and I feel it has the potential to make a difference for individuals suffering from psychiatric disorders,” Kalin says. “Importantly, this is first year that the award has been given in the name of Bruce McEwen, an outstanding scientist who made critical discoveries that underpin our understanding of how hormones affect the brain. He truly was a pioneer and a tremendous mentor to many scientists making contributions in this area, so being a recipient of this award in Bruce’s name is very meaningful to me.”

Manish Shah, MD, MPH

Shah, professor and vice chair for research in the BerbeeWalsh Department of Emergency Medicine, received the 2021 Academy of Geriatric Emergency Medicine Academic Career Achievement Award for his significant contributions to improving geriatric emergency care through clinical and translational research. The academy is part of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine.

Manish Shah portrait
Manish Shah

He joined the school’s faculty in 2015 to help establish a research enterprise in the department, which had been elevated to full department status the year before. He was also interested in pursuing his own research, which is focused on advancing the care of older adults with illnesses and injuries.

“I enjoy facilitating research, performing research, and helping develop the next generation of researchers, so this all came together incredibly well,” Shah says. “It's been tremendously satisfying and exciting for me because we get to innovate as I work to develop the research program in the department and also co-direct the KL2 career development program for junior faculty for our UW Institute for Clinical and Translational Research.”

Shah’s career in research has focused on improving the care of older adults who are seeking emergency care, a field of work just recently established by a small handful of researchers, including himself. The career achievement award is a recognition of his role in establishing this field over the last 20 years.

“How do we give better care to older adults, how do we research that, and how do we train people to do that better?” he asks. “Those are the questions I work to answer. When I finished my training in 2001, there was no focused interest within the emergency medicine community on this important topic, especially in the context of our country’s aging population.”

By Kaine Korzekwa, MS, as part of a series focusing on members of the school who received national awards during the 2020-21 academic year.