Leaders in Clinical Excellence Awards

Patricia and William L. Watson Jr., M.D. Award for Excellence in Clinical Medicine

This award, UT Southwestern’s highest honor in clinical care, recognizes a UT Southwestern clinician who exemplifies excellence in patient care and is a leader in advancing clinical innovation. It honors a faculty member who has had a profound impact on patients, students, trainees, and colleagues through the quality of his or her clinical work.

The Watson Award recipient is chosen by a select committee of physician leaders who review nominations. All members of the UT Southwestern community are welcome to submit a nomination.

See distinguished past winners

The 2022 Winner:

Robert H. Collins Jr., M.D., FACP

Professor of Internal Medicine
Division of Hematology and Oncology

Dr. Collins, a blood cancer specialist, has led the Hematological Malignancies/Bone Marrow Transplantation (BMT) Clinical Program at UT Southwestern Medical Center since establishing it in 1998.

The BMT program, which is widely recognized as one of the top programs in the country, has a team that cares for more than 1,500 new patients a year and performs approximately 180 transplants annually. These patients are among the sickest cancer patients and their care is exceptionally complex.

“Our goal from the beginning has been to offer a program that delivers very complicated therapy with excellence and compassion. Today’s treatments are less toxic and more effective, have lower mortality rates, and cause fewer side effects,” Dr. Collins said in 2017, when the program reached its 1,000th transplant.

Since joining UT Southwestern’s faculty, one of Dr. Collins’ top priorities has been to provide clinical trials that lead to new, more effective treatments for leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma patients. At any one time, the BMT program offers 40-50 phase 1, phase 2, or phase 3 clinical trials.

Earlier this year, Dr. Collins spoke at the 2022 Carolyn P. Horchow Women’s Health Symposium about the precision medicines that have been developed in recent years for the treatment of various cancers.

Using examples from his practice, Dr. Collins spoke about targeted therapies, which are developed by digging down to understand the genetic-level mechanism causing a particular cancer. An oral drug that targets the specific problematic protein can then be given to the patient. Dr. Collins gave the example of a mother of four whom he had treated for chronic myeloid leukemia. At that time, with standard therapy, the patient would have had a life expectancy of four to five years. However, Dr. Collins was able to offer a new targeted drug for her specific cancer in the context of a clinical trial. Many years later, there is no evidence of cancer in blood samples from this woman. In gratitude, she calls Dr. Collins once a year on their mutual birthday to thank him and to catch him up on her life.

Dr. Collins also practices CAR-T therapy, which involves removing some of a patient’s T cells and reengineering them to specifically attack that patient’s cancer, then returning them to the patient. From his own work, Dr. Collins has shared an example of a 60-year-old man with lymphoma who was not helped by traditional treatments, but whose cancer was successfully treated by CAR-T therapy in a clinical trial. The patient is now five years out from treatment and has been able to see his daughter graduate from UT Southwestern Medical School, become a pediatrician, and get married.

Dr. Collins has been interested in mechanism-targeted therapy since early in his career. The many clinical trials that he has offered his patients over the years not only provide hope to those for whom traditional chemotherapy has failed, but also led to improved standard treatments with fewer side effects for future patients.

In recent years, Dr. Collins helmed the UTSW BMT center to participate in a multicenter study of the genomics of more than 600 cases of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which revealed numerous insights into the biology of AML. That study was followed by a large clinical trial called Beat AML, a basket trial of molecular-targeted therapy for patients with newly diagnosed AML.

The hematological cancers program that Dr. Collins leads is a multidisciplinary program with more than 260 members, including 17 faculty members and more than 30 advanced practice providers. “He understands better than anybody how alignment of the whole team, coupled with strong management and oversight, are essential to achieving exceptional patient care. He has been a role model to many in the institution of how to conduct efficient, empathetic, and up-to-date outstanding clinical medicine and, as such, provides a trailblazing example for other clinical programs at UTSW,” said his nominator.

Dr. Collins also instructs medical students, residents, and fellows in the treatment of blood cancers.

Clearly Dr. Collins impresses with his passion for clinical trials that lead to better treatments and his skill at running a large department. But his ability to connect with his patients is key to his selection as this year’s Watson Award recipient.

“Importantly, Dr. Collins maintains a spiritual and emotional connection with many of his patients, helping them navigate through their difficult cancer journey,” his nominator said.

The evidence of his ability to provide not only scientifically top-notch treatment, but also a warm, human touch, can be found in the comments of Press Ganey respondents. Words like “kind,” “caring,” and “compassionate” appear over and over.

Said one Press Ganey respondent, “Of all of the doctors I saw during my illness, he is the one who gave me hope of being well, and I believe that had a profound influence on my outcome.”

Dr. Collins earned a combined bachelor’s degree/medical degree in a six-year program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. He completed his internal medicine residency at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, followed by a fellowship in hematology and oncology at UCLA.

He has more than 130 articles published in scientific journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, Annals of Internal Medicine, and The Lancet.

In his words: “I am deeply grateful to be this year’s recipient of the Watson Award. My profound thanks to all the members of our program – the doctors, each one of whom is a truly wonderful physician; the nurses, coordinators, advanced practice providers, CSAs, MOAs, HUCs, quality managers, data managers, insurance and finance specialists, administrative personnel, research personnel, pharmacists, social workers and case managers, dietitians, and PT/OT specialists. Without exception, they are outstanding at what they do, and they are totally devoted to bringing excellence and compassion to the patients whose lives theirs touch. I am grateful to this institution, the leadership, and all my colleagues in the UTSW community who set such a high bar for excellence in everything they do. I am grateful to all who have helped me along the way: my parents, my wife and children, my mentors, my friends, and extended family. And I am especially grateful to all our patients and their family members over the years who have entrusted us with their care and have taught us so much about grace and courage and love. Last but most, I am grateful to the Divine Physician, the source of all mercy and healing.

Dr. Collins holds the Sydney and J.L. Huffines Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research in Honor of Eugene Frenkel, M.D., and the H. Lloyd and Willye V. Skaggs Professorship in Medical Research.

Leaders in Clinical Excellence video: Dr. Robert H. Collins Jr.

“Watson Award recipients embody the special combination of clinical expertise and humanism that results in the delivery of truly exceptional patient care. The Watson Award winner is widely regarded as a ‘physician’s physician’ and a model of clinical commitment and excellence.”

Daniel K. Podolsky, M.D.

President, UT Southwestern Medical Center