Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award

This year’s recipient of the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine award, Mary Helen Hackney, M.D., Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, Massey Cancer Center, has been described as “embodying the true sense of a compassionate physician on all levels.” Dr. Hackney came to VCU in 1988 for her internal medicine residency, completed a hematology/oncology fellowship, and joined the faculty in 1992 as a clinical instructor.

Dr. Hackney worked closely with Dr. Susan Mellette, a pioneering medical oncologist at MCV, who developed a model for cancer care that was “patient-centered” before that was a commonly-cited goal. Dr. Hackney, a breast cancer specialist, quickly became involved in providing high-quality care to patients in rural areas; in 1998 she became Interim Director of the Rural Cancer Outreach Program and a year later she was appointed Director, continuing in this role until 2013. The Rural Cancer Outreach Program was designed to respond to data showing that cancer deaths were much higher than the national average in rural areas outside Richmond. Travel to Richmond for care was identified as a barrier for many patients and their families. This program allows oncologists and nurses to travel to community hospital sites to bring the highest level of care to those who need it, right in their community.

Her dedication to improving health by meeting people “where they are” is also demonstrated by Dr. Hackney’s long record of volunteer work at the CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, and dozens of presentations for community health care providers and the lay public at churches, community centers, and health care facilities. She has been recognized seven times as a Richmond “Top Doc”, and received the Sharon H. Kohlenberg Healthcare Service Award from the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation (VBCF) in 2005. Dr. Hackney was recognized with the 2013 “Best Bedside Manner Award” by Our Health magazine, and was named a Virginia Lawyer’s Media “Influential Women of Virginia” in 2014.

Dr. Hackney is recognized as an outstanding mentor, clinician, scientist, and teacher here in the School of Medicine, as well. She received the 2009 VCU Women in Science, Dentistry, and Medicine (WISDM) Organization Professional Achievement Award, the Porter Master Clinician Award in 2011, and was named a Physician Champion by VCUHS Senior Leadership and the Star Service Oversight Committee in 2013. Dr. Hackney is a champion and role model for ongoing professional development, especially that of women in medicine. Significantly, when facing a cancer diagnosis, many VCUHS faculty, staff, and their family members specifically seek out Dr. Hackney for care – the ultimate accolade and statement of trust.

As Director of Quality Improvement for the Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Palliative Care, Co-Chair, Oncology Patient Care Services Committee, and Co-Chair of a task force to develop integrative health programs, Dr. Hackney helps our health system improve interdisciplinary clinical care for our patients.

In nominating Dr. Hackney for this award, her colleague, Stephen Gudas, PT, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology, describes her this way:

She is indefatigable- working long hours. Her bedside manner is impeccable. I have seen her talking with the same family for over 2 hours discussing a new diagnosis…Certainly she is one of the most competent, kind, and totally involved physicians I have seen in my 40 years at the VCU Health System.

The Arnold P. Gold Foundation sponsors the Leonard Tow Humanism Awards for those who “best demonstrate the Foundation’s ideals of outstanding compassion in the delivery of care; respect for patients, their families, and healthcare colleagues; and clinical excellence.” Through her exceptional dedication to providing the best possible care for patients and their families at Massey Cancer Center and in our community, Dr. Mary Helen Hackney truly exemplifies these ideals and we are honored to recognize her today.