This year’s Salute to Service Awards, sponsored by the Medical Society of Virginia Foundation, recognized two School of Medicine faculty for their exceptional commitment to care: Robert Winn, M.D. and Stephen Kates, M.D.

Now in their 18th year, the Salute to Service Awards honor health care workers across Virginia who exemplify selfless dedication to serving their communities and improving care. The foundation selects individuals in areas including advancing patient safety, service to the international community, service to the profession and service by a medical student or resident. Last year, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the group added a category to acknowledge physicians’ tireless efforts during COVID-19.

The selection committee deliberated over more than 40 nominations before deciding on the winners, nearly double the volume of previous years. Recipients were announced on Saturday, Oct. 23, during the Medical Society of Virginia Foundation’s annual meeting, held virtually for the second year in a row due to COVID-19 precautions.

Service to the Uninsured and Underserved

Robert Winn, M.D., director of VCU Massey Cancer Center and professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, is one of two physicians to receive this year’s Service to the Uninsured and Underserved award. The second ever Black director at a nationally designated cancer center, Winn has been a trailblazer in empowering underserved communities and improving cancer health care delivery.

In addition to directing the cancer center, managing a pulmonary research lab and seeing patients, Winm is also a leader and advocate in Richmond’s Black communities. After a prominent Black pastor who refused to close his church at the start of the pandemic died of the coronavirus, Winn offered to meet periodically with Black faith leaders to share accurate information and answer questions about COVID-19. This launched Facts and Faith Fridays, a weekly webinar that has grown to engage hundreds of Black faith congregations throughout Virginia.

“I believe in reducing the health disparities gap for everyone, whether they’re in Lynchburg or the East End of Richmond, and the concept that communities matter,” said Winn. “It’s my team and the work they’ve been doing. There is an energy they’re now bringing to the city, the region and the state about our focus that those most at risk are getting the benefits of Massey.”

Service to Health Care During Covid-19

Stephen Kates, M.D., the John Cardea professor and chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, received this year’s Service to Health Care During COVID-19 award. Early on the pandemic, Kates was asked to join an interdisciplinary committee tasked with addressing the dire need for personal protective equipment. Known for his innovation, creative problem-solving and expertise in improving health care safety, he immediately got to work.

The committee developed a system using high-intensity ultraviolet light to decontaminate N95 respirator masks, allowing VCU Health employees to safely reuse their masks during the worldwide equipment shortage. Kates, who enjoys metalworking during his free time and has a state-of-the-art workshop at his home, designed and built metal racks that hold large numbers of N95 masks during the UV-C disinfection. More than 85% of masks passed inspection after the 12-minute decontamination process, and over the course of the pandemic, the system has allowed VCU Health to sterilize and reuse more than 100,000 masks. Kates and his team shared the innovation widely, providing diagrams and templates with other hospital systems across the state.

“This is why I went into medicine, is to help people,” said Kates. “I just never really thought that my metalworking skills would help me better take care of my colleagues, but in this case, I had a skill that was helpful to my colleagues, so it makes me feel great that I was able to help them.”

Peter Buckley, M.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine, commended Winn and Kates for their achievements.

“These prestigious awards are a testament to our faculty’s selfless, tireless dedication to their profession and their communities,” said Buckley. “Dr. Winn and Dr. Kates have gone above and beyond during the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, and I thank them for their remarkable resilience, innovation and leadership.”