Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award

Each year the School of Medicine presents the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award to a student and faculty member 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. This year’s faculty recipient is Paula Ferrada, M.D., Associate Professor of Surgery, Director of the Surgical Critical Care Fellowship Program, Department of Surgery, and Director of the Surgical-Trauma Intensive Care Unit (STICU) at VCU Health System. Dr. Ferrada joined the VCU Faculty in 2010 after serving as the first Acute Care Surgery Fellow at the University of Maryland R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center.

Dr. Ferrada is described by her nominees as “approachable,” “an incredible role model,” “compassionate,” and “fabulous.” In addition to her exceptional patient care and mentoring of learners at VCU, Dr. Ferrada is the President of the Virginia Chapter of the Association of Women Surgeons and Chair of the Education and Research Committee of the Pan American Trauma Society. She was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society in 2016.

Internationally recognized in the use and training of ultrasound for resuscitation of the hypotensive surgical patient (USET), Dr. Ferrada has authored two books and more than 35 peer-reviewed publications on topics regarding trauma and critical care access to rural communities. Dr. Ferrada is committed to improving survival rates through education and skills training for local surgical and medical personnel.

If you saw Dr. Ferrada dancing in front of Hippocrates in the recent VCU “Can’t Stop the Feeling” video (Google it), you saw another way she is making a difference — increasing the visibility of careers in medicine,- and specifically surgery– for women and other groups historically underrepresented in medicine. Reaching out to young people is key, and as one of her nominators’ states, “Dr. Ferrada is one of the originators and a leader in the diversity-conscious “I Look Like a Surgeon” movement, a social media campaign promoting women in science. Her efforts have expanded the original gender specific message into an international message with a commitment toward greater diversity and inclusion, celebrating differences within the surgeon community inclusive of cultural, physical, racial, and gender variances.” This outreach campaign has resulted in significant increases in the Department of Surgery’s social media presence, and Twitter posts trending with #ILookLikeASurgeon have resulted in 2.5 million additional contacts.

At the core, though, is patient care. As one of her nominees explains, “For patients, Dr. Ferrada is the type of person you want to meet on the worst day of your life.” Another mentee states, “She has empathy for her patients and treats them like her own family, constantly supporting them through the emotional and psychological components that follow difficult diagnoses.” Just one example of Dr. Ferrada’s exceptional dedication occurred when a patient had to have both legs amputated after a train accident. After assisting with the surgery that saved his life, Dr. Ferrada realized he would still be hospitalized during the birth of his first child. Dr. Ferrada worked with his nursing staff and the labor and delivery staff to arrange for him to be transferred to the delivery room so that he could be beside his wife during the birth of their daughter. (news.vcu.edu/article/Life and limb)

One of her mentees sums up Dr. Ferrada’s impact well, “Dr. Ferrada is the type of physician I aspire to be. Her positivity is one of her hallmarks and one of the things I admire most about her. Everything she touches, she tries to make better. This relentless optimism, caring nature and sheer talent make her the best mentor I could have ever asked for.”