The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed most of us hard into a virtual environment and in this landscape our department and many of our faculty have become or continue to be “Influencers.” It would have been hard to imagine someone listing “improve video conferencing skills” as one of their goals at the beginning of 2020, but now, more than a year into the pandemic, it is equally difficult to find someone who doesn’t feel like somewhat of a Zoom pro. Present company might be excepted as there has not been a week that has gone by where I am not reminded to “unmute” my microphone! Whether conducting virtual patient visits, teaching a class, interviewing resident applicants, going over a budget, or just connecting with sequestered friends and family, we all quickly learned a lot of lessons about the pluses and pitfalls of meeting with each other via screen. The world’s rapid adoption of this tool did allow us to maintain many important connections with colleagues across the planet and even to open new doors. Of course, the reason for this pivot, although necessary, remains tragic. And even though it is worth pausing for a moment and marveling at the speed of change and the facility with which we’ve achieved it, we must remain cognizant of the ongoing tragedy in many parts of the world and that the battle to return to normalcy, particularly on a global scale, is far from over. 

Regional, national, and international conferences and professional society meetings quickly threw the brakes on in-person meetings last year. Some of them have already now hosted their second annual virtual conferences and, most likely before year’s end, many more will do this as well. Although not a substitute for the value of in-person exchanges to foster new collaborations, they have allowed us to celebrate the achievements of the very best of us. Two such celebrations recognized our institution’s leadership in cystic fibrosis research and lung biology. At the joint AAP, ASCI, and APSA meeting, the 2020 George M. Kober Medal was finally conferred on Dr. Michael Welsh. The honor of telling Dr. Welsh’s story of discovery in a prerecorded video fell to Dr. Joseph Zabner, who will receive an award for his own career contributions at the American Thoracic Society’s virtual meeting next month. Congratulations to both of these pioneers on their well-deserved recognitions.

Despite the need to stay in our backyard, the world has not lacked for opportunities to hear from us. Last November, Dr. Amal Shibli-Rahhal missed out on a chance to visit Vienna, but she still shared with attendees of the European Association for Communication in Healthcare a novel tool for assessing medical students’ skills in triadic interviews. In addition to “trips” to Spain, France, and Switzerland for various talks, Dr. Jack Stapleton was a guest on a VA-sponsored podcast about coronavirus variants last month. Though travel funds were not necessary, the scholarship that Med-Psych resident Dr. Brigid Adviento won last January for her work in treating substance use disorders is still paying off this week as she and others attend and present at the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s 2021 conference.

Earlier this week, I delivered a lecture and met with MD-PhD students at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The day before that, the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center hosted Dr. Zoltan Arany from the University of Pennsylvania “here.” I attended both of those sessions from the same office. No travel needed. There have been many other presentations delivered by faculty and trainees and awards given for their work. A small sample of these are described here. Dr. Sue Bodine received a 2021 Honor Award from the American Physiological Society’s Environmental and Exercise Physiology. Dr. Pashtoon Kasi’s presentation on using “liquid biopsy” to monitor bile-duct cancer earned second place at the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation’s meeting. All of you who have made time to embrace, and even shine on, these virtual stages make the department and college proud. 

Our department is no exception to adapting to the new environment, with the first of our spring slate of virtual CME conferences—Updates in Infectious Diseases, fittingly—set to run a week from today. My thanks to these organizers for finding creative solutions to necessary restrictions and delivering the same excellence and rigor attendees expect from University of Iowa faculty.

Finally, speaking of challenging work made all the more challenging by a pandemic, I would like to extend heartfelt congratulations and announce those faculty members who earned promotions to Associate Professor and Professor this year. These have just been confirmed by the Provost and approved by the Board of Regents. More than two dozen, a number that includes some adjunct faculty, have shown their commitment to excellence in achieving these promotions. Even under ideal circumstances, assembling their promotion dossiers involve many meetings, many late evenings, and many hours of thought and care. My thanks to our Vice Chair for Faculty Advancement Dr. Christie Thomas, still in his first year in the role, who diligently guided so many of our faculty through this process. That we have such a large class of promotions this year is worth celebrating and my hope is that later this year, we will find a way (hopefully not virtual) to recognize you all.

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