Rising Star Award
This award recognizes exceptional early-career clinical faculty whose actions and activities consistently exemplify enthusiasm, commitment, professionalism, and leadership.
The 2021 Winners:
Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine
As a perinatologist providing highly specialized care to women experiencing complicated pregnancies, Dr. Adhikari is accustomed to responding to medical emergencies with exigency, empathy, and efficiency. By necessity, all health care workers were challenged at the onset of the pandemic, but Dr. Adhikari’s continued response since the outbreak began has been an invaluable asset as a COVID-19 difference-maker – not only at UT Southwestern, where she’s been a faculty member since 2018 – but also on the state and national levels for her unique expertise on management of SARS-CoV-2 in pregnancy and the impact of COVID-19 vaccines on the maternal-fetal patient population.
Among her other roles, Dr. Adhikari is the Medical Director of Perinatal Infectious Diseases for the Parkland Health & Hospital System, where she conducts her clinical practice. She works closely with the leadership at Parkland and Dallas County Health and Human Services to coordinate infectious diseases surveillance and treatment for pregnant women in high-risk situations.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it fear of the unknown. There was little understanding of the effects or transmissibility of the virus in pregnant or laboring patients. That is why Dr. Adhikari, along with a UTSW colleague, promptly stepped up and started collecting that data. There was no early data on the effectiveness or safety of the vaccine in women who were pregnant or might become pregnant, and education was needed. Dr. Adhikari became a trusted voice and resource for questions by employees, patients, and the community. Her research on the severity of COVID-19 in pregnancy associated with the Delta variant – particularly for the unvaccinated – conveyed urgency to local and state officials throughout vaccination efforts. Even more important than the research, however, was her response to patient care in the midst of the crisis.
“Unlike other services, obstetric patients continued unabated throughout the pandemic,” noted Catherine Spong, M.D., UTSW Professor and Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “As our Department’s COVID expert, Dr. Adhikari was on the front line providing guidance on patient care and management, policies, and new research. She was always available to answer questions and come in to provide care for critically ill women. The policies she developed served as a model for other areas within the Parkland organization. She is the penultimate triple threat – a stellar clinician, teacher, and scientist.”
In her words: “I come to work every day excited about what I can learn about preventing and treating illness and infection in pregnancy. At UT Southwestern, my work this past year – to understand the effects of COVID-19 in pregnancy and the importance of vaccination – didn't happen in a vacuum. I can only be successful because I am surrounded by colleagues and mentors who motivate me and support our mission to educate, discover, and heal. I would not be able to do what I do without my husband and kids to cheer me on. I am humbled and honored to receive this award. Onward and upward.”
Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine
Division of Infectious Diseases and Geographic Medicine
Colleagues say Dr. Arasaratnam is a “Rising Star” on multiple fronts and note that what sets him apart are his clinical knowledge – particularly regarding infections in immunocompromised patients requiring complex or prolonged therapies – his passion for teaching, his commitment to patients, his capacity for scholarship, and, indeed, his dedication to colleagues.
An honors graduate of the University of Oxford Medical School in England with subsequent training at the University of North Carolina, Baylor College of Medicine, and Harvard University, Dr. Arasaratnam is double board-certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases and a member of the Royal College of Physicians. He joined the UT Southwestern faculty in 2017 and in 2020 was appointed Assistant to the Medical Services Chief for Education at the VA North Texas Health Care System.
According to Internal Medicine Assistant Professor Donald Storey, M.D., “Dr. Arasaratnam has, in less than one year, literally transformed the Dallas VA approach to the care of patients with nontuberculous mycobacterial infections. While doing this essentially in his spare time in the middle of a pandemic, he also spearheaded the drafting and approval of a multidisciplinary quality improvement project, and he has become a leading authority for COVID-19 prevention and treatment at the Dallas VA, volunteering his time to give out countless instructional presentations to colleagues and trainees and even participating in a patient town hall.”
On a national level, Dr. Arasaratnam serves on the American Board of Internal Medicine’s Infectious Diseases Item-Writing Task Force and on the American College of Rheumatology’s Clinical Guidance Task Force on COVID-19 vaccinations. He regularly evaluates articles for peer-reviewed publications in high-profile journals and serves as an expert presenter on panels focused on viral infections, vaccinations, infectious disease care of the immunocompromised host, and the pandemic.
A strong advocate of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, Dr. Arasaratnam leads training efforts at UT Southwestern on recognizing and avoiding implicit bias during Infectious Diseases Fellowship interviews, among other impactful activities.
In his words: “I am humbled and privileged to be receiving this award and would like to recognize the many colleagues, mentors, and mentees who have supported me and from whom I continue to draw inspiration from daily. My career is a testament to the number of people who have invested in me, and it is my desire to ‘pay it forward’ to the next generation of physicians. Most of all, I would like to thank my family, who have given continual and resolute support throughout my career and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Leaders in Clinical Excellence video: Dr. Reuben Arasaratnam
Associate Professor of Internal Medicine
Division of Cardiology
Dr. Kumbhani has been a rapidly rising star in the field of interventional cardiology ever since joining UT Southwestern in 2012, fresh from his fellowships at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He immediately started UTSW’s transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) program and was instrumental in developing and expanding the percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) and structural heart programs on campus, all of which have since grown in stature and complexity.
Already an internationally recognized name in the field, Dr. Kumbhani became UT Southwestern’s Section Chief of Interventional Cardiology in 2018. His clinical practice specializes in transradial coronary interventions, percutaneous valve technologies, and other adult structural heart disease interventions. He is also the Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at UTSW’s William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital.
He has authored or co-authored more than 180 articles in peer-reviewed journals and serves as an Associate Editor for the journal Circulation. Joseph A. Hill, M.D., Ph.D., Chief of Cardiology at UT Southwestern and Editor-in-Chief of Circulation, says, “Dr. Kumbhani is an exceptional leader, investigator, clinician, and educator. He is highly accomplished across all of the domains and unquestionably the ‘real deal’ academic faculty member.”
In addition to presenting at events across the globe, Dr. Kumbhani is a member of emerging leadership programs of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography & Interventions. In 2017, he was chosen as the inaugural chair of an ACC task force that helped shape national policy on requirements for TAVR. In 2022, he will be the first program director for UT Southwestern’s new Structural Heart Disease Fellowship Program, which he helped envision.
In his words: “I am extremely honored to receive this prestigious award. My time here at UT Southwestern has been rewarding in so many different ways – every day is a real privilege! I love my work and my patients and am blessed with incredible mentors, colleagues, and friends. It has been particularly gratifying to work with numerous experts on campus to build and develop teams that help take care of patients with complex structural heart, coronary artery, and other cardiovascular diseases. Our close-knit team structure enables us to deliver truly world-class care to our patients. I am also very thankful to my family for their unconditional and unwavering support.”
Leaders in Clinical Excellence video: Dr. Dharam Kumbhani
Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology
Chief of Gastrointestinal Radiation Oncology Service
Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center
There is a reason for Dr. Sanford’s meteoric rise to Chief of Gastrointestinal Radiation Oncology after just three years at UT Southwestern. Actually, according to her colleagues, there are multiple reasons, among which are her perseverance, fearlessness, humility, and passion for mentoring and patient advocacy.
After completing her medical training at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Sanford joined the UTSW faculty in 2018. By the end of her first year, she was named a Dedman Family Scholar in Clinical Care and since then has received additional research funding, both internally through the Simmons Cancer Center and externally through, among others, the prestigious Radiation Oncology Institute translational grant for her work on identifying biomarkers of response in anal cancer.
Dr. Sanford’s efforts have been recognized with appointments to several national committees such as NRG Oncology. Committed to solving problems related to health inequities, she joined the NRG Health Disparities Committee and chairs the NRG Pancreas Working Group for pancreatic cancer, a disease dramatically impacted by race and socioeconomic status. She is also currently serving a three-year term as an early career investigator for the National Cancer Institute Pancreatic Task Force.
She has more than 60 peer-reviewed publications, many as first or senior author and several in high-impact oncology journals. And meanwhile, she serves as an Associate Editor for the gastrointestinal section of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics, the premier journal in the radiation-oncology field.
Robert Timmerman, M.D., Interim Chair of Radiation Oncology at UTSW, said, “In the three years Dr. Sanford has been on faculty, she has flourished and exceeded our expectations. Not only has she excelled in clinical care, she has also managed to become highly successful in research, mentorship, and advocacy. She is highly regarded by other members of the Cancer Center and is a role model for many of the faculty in our Department.”
In her words: “It is a tremendous honor to be recognized with this award. I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to come to work daily and do what I love to do – teach trainees, participate in cutting-edge research, and above all, care for patients with cancer. I owe enormous thanks to all my colleagues in Radiation Oncology, the gastrointestinal disease-oriented team, and the Cancer Center, who have been like family to me over the past three years (and to me, UTSW is truly family because two of my children were born at Clements University Hospital!). Lastly, a huge thanks to my husband, who has put up with me since 2009.”