On May 8, Southwestern Medical Foundation presented the 2021 Ho Din Award to Dr. Natasha Houshmand during the UTSW Medical School commencement ceremonies. Instituted by the Foundation in 1943, Ho Din recognizes those who embody the qualities inherent in all great physicians – medical wisdom, human understanding, and compassion. The award represents the ideals and aspirations on which the school was built, and it continues to be the highest honor bestowed on a UTSW medical student today.
For only the second time since its inception, the Award was presented by a previous recipient, Dr. Beth Kassanoff-Piper. Since winning Ho Din in 1996, Dr. Kassanoff-Piper has cared for patients in North Texas, where she has established herself as a leader in internal medicine and currently serves as President of the Dallas County Medical Society. She is inspired by Dr. Houshmand’s tremendous achievements and honored to be asked to present this year’s Ho Din Award.
“Dr. Houshmand has excelled academically, as well as in research and leadership positions, and shows a deep passion for caring for others,” said Dr. Kassanoff-Piper. “She is going to be a wonderful representation of the Ho Din Award and UTSW as she goes out into the world and puts into practice every day what Ho Din stands for – knowledge, understanding, and compassion. These things are all equally important in terms of caring for patients and helping communities. Dr. Houshmand will make a wonderful, positive impact on the field of medicine in surgery, as well as the field of medicine in general.”
“It has been a delight to meet this year’s Ho Din Award winner. Dr. Houshmand is an exceptional role model and is well-deserving of this honor. It will be a pleasure to watch her growth as a physician and her leadership and impact more broadly as her career advances.”
Kathleen M. Gibson, President and CEO, Southwestern Medical Foundation
Motivation Through Mentorship
As a young girl, Dr. Houshmand developed a great love for science. She witnessed her mother’s true dedication to her work as a dentist and the exceptional care she provided to patients. While in high school, she spent a day shadowing a friend’s father and local surgeon, Dr. Matthew Pompeo. That day turned into a seven-year mentorship, in which Dr. Pompeo introduced her to the world of surgery.
“My interest in helping others is what drew me into the medical field,” she said. “When I watched the way Dr. Pompeo cared for his patients and made them feel comfortable, I knew this was what I wanted to do. That sort of mentorship relationship from an early phase set me on track to pursue medical school and be in this position now.”
Dr. Houshmand is a Dallas native, and in 2017 she graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas with an undergraduate degree in biology. While at UT Dallas, she served as a student ambassador, was a member of the Bystander Intervention Leadership Committee, and taught her peers about relevant health issues ranging from mental health to nutrition as a Peer Health Educator. She participated in research in the lab of Dr. Michael Kilgard which was aimed at developing a cure for chronic tinnitus through vagus nerve stimulation. She received the UT Dallas Academic Excellence Scholarship and the Kappa Alpha Theta Alumnae Scholarship in 2017 and 2018.
At UTSW, Dr. Houshmand maintained an outstanding academic record, achieving a perfect GPA of 4.0, and she was selected into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society (AOA) as a junior medical student. As Co-President of the UTSW AOA Gamma Chapter, she managed the organization of 30 students and formed a new committee to help future students prepare for high stakes standardized examinations. She was President of the UTSW Chapter of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Vice President of the Trauma Surgery Society, and helped organize the Domestic Violence Awareness Week initiative for the American Medical Women’s Association.
She was nominated by her peers and selected for membership to the Gold Humanism Honor Society, which reflected her superb interpersonal skills and compassion for others. She completed requirements for an M.D. with Distinction in Quality Improvement and Patient Safety, and she participated in projects to improve care for patients with cholecystitis; helped design and implement a “Difficulty Airway Response Team” to improve intubation safety; and led database expansion of geriatric traumatic brain injury cases as part of a national research initiative.
She has fond memories of her medical training experience at UTSW.
“I am where I am today, thanks to the preparation that UTSW provided and all the support I received throughout medical school,” she said. “Finishing medical school during the COVID pandemic has been an unprecedented experience that we cannot compare to anything in the past. My classmates bonded from COVID because it pushed us out of our comfort zones, and we learned valuable lessons. This became a higher calling for us to join a health care community that, more than ever, needs us ready to serve and give back.”
With the Ho Din medal, Dr. Houshmand received a commemorative certificate and a $10,000 scholarship. She begins her next chapter – residency training – at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“My interests are in trauma surgery and how it intersects with public health, and my residency program aligns with a number of opportunities to improve the quality and safety of patients,” she said. “I envision myself as a trauma surgeon working in a large academic hospital, teaching and mentoring residents and medical students, serving in leadership roles to give back to the educational community, and helping inform the curriculum that is being updated and implemented. I want to be known as the physician who creates a comfortable environment where people feel safe and confident in the care they receive.”
“The Ho Din Award represents a rich legacy, both at UTSW and in the greater community. Ho Din and the past recipients set a beautiful foundation for what is to come, setting the bar and the expectations so high in such a wonderful way. I think it is a great responsibility, and I am grateful for the world of opportunity that awaits me.”
Dr. Natasha Houshmand
Sharing the Ho Din Tradition
Dr. Beth Kassanoff-Piper attributes her inspiration for success to the leaders that have gone before her. She welcomed the opportunity when asked to present Dr. Natasha Houshmand with the 2021 Ho Din Award.
Dr. Kassanoff-Piper remembers being drawn to UTSW when considering medical school. “The excitement of the students, the enthusiasm of the faculty, and the sense of humor that came across from the school was different than anywhere else. I thought, ‘This is a place I can really enjoy learning,’ and I did,” she said.
She had nearly completed medical school and was preparing for her upcoming wedding when she received unexpected news – she won the 1996 Ho Din Award. She was humbled to be part of this great distinction, but she was even more shocked to learn that previous Ho Din winner and Nobel Laureate Dr. Joseph Goldstein would present her award at the UTSW medical school commencement ceremony.
“It was an amazing experience to receive the Ho Din Award from Dr. Goldstein,” she said. “The medical students were in awe of him and his scientific discoveries. To receive the award from someone who was so accomplished was very meaningful to me and really symbolized Ho Din is a special, lasting, and enduring tradition at UTSW.”
Like Drs. Kassanoff-Piper and Houshmand, Dr. Goldstein was awarded Ho Din at his UTSW commencement ceremony in 1966.
“When I received the Ho Din Award, I was just a young medical student,” said Dr. Goldstein. “Now, 55 years later and a Nobel Prize under my belt, I guess I am sort of a role model for the younger generation of medical students. It is always a surprise and pleasure when UTSW medical students recognize me in a grocery store or a restaurant (in the pre-COVID-19 days) and tell me when they were at UTSW and what they are now up to in their practice of medicine.”
Ho Din Award Origin and Legacy
In 1943, at the first meeting of the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Medical College, the Board voted to establish an annual award to recognize the medical student who best exemplified the ideal physician envisioned by the founders.
The Ho Din Award was then instituted by Southwestern Medical Foundation to recognize those who exemplify the unique personal qualities embodied in all great physicians – knowledge, understanding, and, most of all, compassion. Ho Din, which represents “the spirit of medical wisdom and human understanding,” has been a hallmark of excellence at UT Southwestern for more than 70 years and is the foremost honor bestowed on outstanding seniors.