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School of Medicine honors teaching excellence with virtual A Grand Affair

A Grand Affair on Jan. 15 recognized teaching excellence in the University of Kansas School of Medicine through a virtual ceremony.

Dr. Witt talks with two students in a hallway, all three wearing masks
Laurel Witt, MD, M.Phil., assistant professor of family medicine in the KU School of Medicine, (pictured center) talks to two students, and all of them wear masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Witt won a coveted teaching prize, the Rainbow Award, during a virtual ceremony of A Grand Affair.

In what one award winner called "once-in-a-century" circumstances, A Grand Affair on Jan. 15 recognized teaching excellence in the University of Kansas School of Medicine through a virtual ceremony.

A Grand Affair is traditionally a formal gala with dinner and dancing where students, residents and faculty gather to celebrate their accomplishments. In 2021, however, the pandemic upended every tradition except the awards and honors -- and dressing up.

Participants logging into Zoom saw students bedecked in suits and formal gowns as they greeted viewers and introduced awards. Akinlolu O. Ojo, MD, executive dean of the KU School of Medicine, welcomed guests and thanked the work of the students who put the unusual ceremony together. "Though we are unable to celebrate face-to-face, the fact that we are gathering to recognize the excellence of our students and educators is a testament to our unyielding commitment and perseverance as an academic community," he said.

A different experience

A Grand Affair (AGA) is presented by the Medical Student Assembly and the Office of Student Affairs in the KU School of Medicine. The Student Voice committee organizes the awards for the evening. Kennedy Kirkpatrick, a third-year medical student and co-chair of Student Voice, said previous templates for A Grand Affair had to be thrown out. "Virtual AGA was a different experience for everyone involved, but I think the reactions of the staff and those in attendance spoke to the importance of the event," she said.

Eric Aube, also an M3 and co-chair of Student Voice, said this year took more collaboration with the technology team to make a livestream possible. "Obviously, it's not an ideal situation, but I think a lot of people really appreciated the recognition that we gave them," Aube said. "I thought it was worthwhile and will definitely be a memory of my pandemic experience."

Rainbow Award

The night's pinnacle prize is the Rainbow Award, presented to the faculty member that exemplifies professionalism in medicine and the willingness and capacity to mentor others. The 2021 winner was Laurel Witt, MD, M.Phil., assistant professor of family medicine. Witt joined the University of Kansas Medical Center in 2016 and received the Excellence in Teaching Award from Student Voice every year since joining the faculty. She is also director for undergraduate medical education in the department of family medicine and community health.

"Thank you to my student colleagues for this fantastic honor. But not just for this -- for the honor of working with you this year. This tough, tough year when you have shown all of us the ideals of medicine: service, humanity, equity," Witt said.

After the ceremony, Witt reflected on what it was like to accept an award via webcam. "The whole thing was a bit surreal. I can't describe it. I was in a formal outfit, complete with a hairdo and long earrings sitting at home with just one other person," she said, referring to her husband. "The phrase ‘once in a century' comes up, and it's apt, because it's not something I foresee ever doing again."

Meaningful nominations

Kirkpatrick said her favorite part of the evening was seeing faculty members dressed up in their homes. "Being able to celebrate with their families was fun for us; it put into perspective the meaning of their nominations and the fact that we were able to find a way to recognize their hard work and perseverance through the difficulties that the past year in health care has presented," she said.

Additional finalists for the 2021 Rainbow Award included:

  • German Berbel, D.O., assistant professor, surgery
  • Selina Gierer, D.O., associate professor, internal medicine
  • Gerard Brungardt, M.D., professor, internal medicine, Wichita campus
  • Kerri Thurmon, M.D, MPH, assistant professor, urological surgery

Other awards presented

The Excellence in Residency Award, given to a resident who demonstrates altruism, accountability, excellence, service, integrity, and respect for others, was presented to Stephanie Amaya, M.D., obstetrics and gynecology.

Scott Coates, M.D., assistant professor in surgery, received the Ad Astra Award, which honors an outstanding volunteer physician. Patrick J. Stiles, M.D, also an assistant professor in surgery, was given the Sunflower Award, honoring an outstanding part-time physician educator.

Watch a recording of the entire ceremony for even more winners.

Photo of Dr. Witt

"Thank you to my student colleagues for this fantastic honor."

Laurel Witt, MD, M.Phil., accepting the Rainbow Award from her home as part of the virtual ceremony

Program graphic stating "A Grand Affair"

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