For over a year now physicians have been fighting the war against COVID-19; unsung heroes quietly persevering, advocating for individual patients and their communities, sacrificing personally to advance the public good. Wanting to recognize colleagues that have gone above and beyond to battle this pandemic, the TCMS Awards Committee asked the medical community for nominations. Listed below are those nominations – of physicians who have won the respect and thanks of their colleagues during this challenge. Whether it is managing the logistics of the new “normal,” demonstrating the emotional resilience to lift an entire team or demonstrating unbridled courage for the sake of a patient—we applaud and celebrate you and your efforts.

John Abikhaled, MD
Austin Infectious Disease Consultants:
Jack Bissett, MD | Stephanie Cobb, DO | Lis Ellis, MD | James Evans, MD | Brian Metzger, MD | Gayatri Nair, MD | Matthew Robinson, MD
Brent Cardwell, MD
Esther Cheung-Phillips, MD
Anas Daghestani, MD
UT Dell Medical Students:
Garrett Bourne | Katherine Jenson | Kayli Kallina | Kayla Nussbaum | Kaylee O'Connor | Thomas C. Varkey
Susan Dubois, MD
David Escamilla, MD
Mark Escott, MD
Mark Glover, MD
Meena Iyer, MD
John Kish, MD
Kate Kohls, MD
Michael Krol, MD
Audrey Kuang, MD
Tim Mercer, MD
Ai Mukai, MD
Manish Naik, MD
Hemali Patel, MD
Maria "Nichole" Perez, MD
Jason Pickett, MD
Prashant Reddy, DO
Brian Sayers, MD
Alan Schalscha, DO
Reema Shah, DO
Mark Silberman, MD
Michael Teneriello, MD
Le'Wai Thant, MD
Jordan Weingarten, MD
Karen Welch, MD
Nicholas Yagoda, MD
Jeff Yorio, MD
James Zachary, MD

"John has been at the forefront of this challenge.  He has been available to bounce ideas off of.  He has also been a part of the COVID Townhalls which were very helpful." 

"I have never been so impressed by a TCMS President nor as proud demeanor, his presence, his commitment, and his constant involvement  -- a true leader personified -- never for his own glory, very humble, but so reassuring.  I don't even know him personally (at least not at all well) but encountered him at ATCEOC as well as the town halls and also in my work with Dell Med.  Wonderful leader."

Stephanie Cobb, DO |  Jack Bissett, MD | Gayatri Nair, MD | Brian Metzger, MD | Lis Ellis, MD | Matthew Robinson, MD | James Evans, MD

"The AIDC physicians have shown outstanding performance in communicating COVID guidelines and protocols to staff, patients, colleagues, and the community. They have played a huge role during this crazy pandemic. I would consider them hero’s. We are very lucky to be part of their group."

"The doctors in this practice always go above and beyond to address the patient's condition and will try to find the best solution for the patient's quality of life. Very knowledgeable in their field of expertise always making sure the patient as a whole is treated fairly and with respect."

James Evans, MD
"Teaches us all and cares for a lot of patients!"
"Always takes time to answer questions, especially COVID-related ones, with sound research and a cool head even while caring for many complicated infectious disease cases."

Matthew Robinson, MD
"I work directly under Dr. Robinson and he has demonstrated intellect, poise, and encouragement throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. He's been featured on news media and has provided us all with comfort and knowledge regarding both COVID-19 and overall health. He always has a subtle, quirky joke or take on a situation and he deserves recognition."

"Brent is my husband, so I have seen first-hand the long hours he has put in to serve his community.  As President of Central Texas Primary Care Alliance and as CEO of Austin Health Partners, he has done all he can to help pediatric practices in Central Texas be educated and prepared throughout the pandemic.  He has been a calming influence, listening to worries of concerned pediatricians about their practice as well as providing a safe place for his employees to practice.  And, as always, he has provided the best of care to his patients.  I honestly could not be more proud of him."

"Dr. Cheung-Phillips' compassion, empathy, positivity, and selflessness for her patients, colleagues, and staff have always been evident but even more felt and appreciated by everyone during the COVID pandemic. She keeps our team motivated and informed with weekly updates and encouraging talks and treats everyone like family. In between being a mom to two girls, taking active leadership roles in professional organizations, and running a practice, she still finds the time to bring you chicken soup and Zofran when you're under the weather."

"Anas worked tirelessly to assure there would be access to care at ARC for patients. He led ARC to quickly establish resources for drive through COVID testing, telemedicine visits, obtaining PPE for ARC employees, and navigating ARC through the hardest time in ARC's history."

"Anas Daghestani, MD, CEO of Austin Regional Clinic, has 'gone above and beyond in ways that deserve recognition' and displayed 'emotional resilience that lifts the entire team' for the past 12 months of the COVID pandemic. As another ARC leader said last year, 'Anas really did provide the stable center that held all the pieces together.' His ultimate goal was to make the right decisions for the company, the staff, and its physician-owners without allowing patient care to suffer. A pivotal  point in the crisis was the decision, with concurrence of the management team, to keep all clinics open, thus reaffirming ARC’s commitment to patient access.  All 29 ARC clinics remained open for their regularly scheduled hours throughout the acute crisis. That occurred parallel with the rapid expansion of available telemedicine visits from less than 3% prior to mid-March to as high as 70% in April, May and June.

"He supported immediately operationalizing COVID testing tents at five locations throughout the metro area, resulting in as many as 7-10,000 tests per week at its peak.

"Dr. Daghestani faced the financial issues of the pandemic with the goal of not laying off staff by orchestrating creative use of PTO and voluntary short term furloughs, which preserved employee employment and essential benefits. And he led across-the-board salary cuts for exempt management and leadership staff, and all physicians, with his salary reduction being the largest of any.

"Dr. Daghestani’s personal emotional resilience was exhibited during twice weekly web-based ‘town hall’ style meetings for staff and physicians, thus enhancing organizational teamwork and addressing potential fears and misinformation with his optimistic but realistic assessment of conditions on the ground. Rumors and misunderstandings about both the pandemic’s threat and concerns about the group’s financial status were put to rest before they could gain momentum. Throughout this period of time, he maintained an “open door” policy to talk to employees at any level, and encouraged other ARC leadership to do the same.  He made –and still makes –himself accessible to media for interviews, webinars, and comments, providing credible and reliable information to the public, often at early or late hours. In addition, he provided leadership in national advocacy groups such as the American Medical Group Association (AMGA), America’s Physicians Group (APG), TCMS and the Texas Medical Association (TMA) to successfully advocate for regulatory relief and parity in payment for virtual visits. He is the paradigm of a mission-driven leader."

Garrett Bourne | Katherine Jenson | Kayli Kallina | Kayla Nussbaum | Kaylee O’Connor | Thomas Varkey

"These medical students worked hard alongside their fellow medical students to help set up the response from the medical school. They spent hours of their personal time, all unpaid and without recognition, working on getting students involved and trained up. They worked well with their team and the student senate to mobilize the student body to help both with the initial response in March from UTHA and the vaccination efforts starting in late December. They were active in getting the flu shot work done with community partners and continue to work to help with preventative disease while the vast majority of our workforce and our resources have been diverted to working on the Pandemic."

"Dr. Dubois not only continued caring for CommUnityCare patients throughout the pandemic but was also a key leader in our COVID-19 response and our swift transition to telehealth. She leads by example and brings a grounded and seasoned approach that enabled our teams to thrive during a time of great uncertainty."

"She is gentle and kind, thoughtful and passionate, and her patient advocacy during COVID has not waivered at all.  Whether she is leading a specific care initiative or helping direct multiple at an organizational level she has been tireless in her approach.   Our patients and our staff have been able to lean on her during the past year whenever needed.  Thank you Susan for all you do and have done during COVID."

"Never missed a beat ensuring some of our most vulnerable were hooked up to care in F2F and virtual visits. She has been an instrumental team member to take care of our community, and it doesn't hurt every time you see her she has a smile on her face! Lights up a room and you just know we will get through this!"

"Dr. Escamilla not only works to develop wonderful relationships with his patients, but he also develops wonderful relationships with other employees in the clinic.  He is such a patient advocate, and it is clear that he is willing to take extra effort to make sure he provides the best care possible.  Additionally, he has the best sense of humor, and it is always a joy when he walks into the pharmacy."

"Dr. Escamilla goes above and beyond for his patients. He will walk to the pharmacy to ask about pricing and/or availability of medications."

"Dr. Escott's leadership of Austin's and Travis County's response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been heroic.  Thrust into the unenviable position of fighting a terrible pandemic, he has provided steady, thoughtful, appropriate, and science-based guidance through an incredibly challenging time.  In a position where difficult decisions must be made, and none of the choices are good ones, he has stepped up and provided the guidance our community has needed.  Austin/Travis County has fared better than other parts of the state through this pandemic, and Dr. Escott's leadership is one of the reasons why."

"Ran COVID-19 plan."

"He really went above and beyond to start and spearhead collecting and coordinating PPE supplies for doctors, when TCMS, the hospitals, TMA, the health department, nor the government did not step up immediately to keep doctors safe. He maintained a database of safe and tested masks and started the PPE distribution efforts later taken over by TCMS. I was very appreciative of his time, dedication, and commitment to helping all of us get PPE."

"Dr. Iyer serves as the Chief Medical Officer for Dell Children's Medical Center. Throughout what has been an incredibly challenging time for our providers, our patients, our city, and our nation, Dr. Iyer has been a pillar of consistency and calm confidence. I have been so impressed with her willingness to communicate, her efficacy in disseminating critical information, and her seemingly boundless ability to remain calm in the face of crisis. Our hospital, and most importantly, the children of Central Texas, have been cared for with the absolute highest level of skill and clinical acumen largely due to Dr. Iyer's leadership during this time. A simple thank you will never be enough. We are all indebted to Dr. Iyer for her role during this pandemic."

"Meena is the CMO at Dell Children's. She has shown selfless dedication to ensuring that the children of the community get the best care possible while still protecting the staff of Dell Children's. In addition to helping organize a sensible, evidence based response to the pandemic, Meena fields calls and questions about testing and treatment literally 24/7 from worried staff. In the bizarrely shifting sands of recommendations coming from government organizations, Meena maintained an intelligent, positive, and caring approach amid the hysteria of so many. She worked with other DCMC administration to give frequent Town Halls and daily communications to try and allay people's fears. Meena was overwhelmed with COVID related tasks but always maintained her composure and her support of doctors who were sick with COVID or scared and stressed over COVID's potential. She was the rock in a raging storm and is very much appreciated."

"Dr. Kish deserves to be recognized on the COVID Heroes Honor Roll for the tireless work he has performed as chief medical officer of Austin Radiological Association. Not only has he worked on the frontlines as an interventional radiologist throughout the pandemic, but he coordinated the response of our organization of many hundreds of employees including radiologists, radiological technologists, and administrative staff to continue safe medical imaging care to our community. This included coordinating the operations of outpatient centers and inpatient imaging departments according to changing CDC and state guidelines and protocols, procuring personal protective equipment for patients and staff, and managing the vaccine administration for our organization. Dr. Kish's efforts made it possible for our community to have access to the medical imaging they have needed in a safe and timely fashion during this difficult time."

"Dr. Kohls took the initiative to develop a COVID intubation team and spearheaded efforts to have protocols to maximize patient safety and minimize exposure to staff. She spent untold hours researching best practices and speaking with experts in the field in order to best take care of patients while also protecting providers and their families."

"Michael Krol is a relatively new physician - started here in Austin in 2018 after his geriatric fellowship.   He was/is the medical director over the first COVID isolation nursing home here in Central Texas - Hearthstone - and participated actively on the ATCEOC Nursing Home Task Force.  He served and continues to serve as the attending physician for all patients that come to that unit;  at times being swamped and with low staff and reusing PPE.  It is unknown how many lives he has saved by working to get his nursing home stood up in record time to take positive patients from the hospitals rather than having them discharge them to SNFs like they did in New York leading to huge early outbreaks in the nursing homes."

"Dr. Kuang has always been an advocate for some of the city's most vulnerable populations and since the COVID-19 pandemic she and her team has had to get even more resilient and creative in their ways of providing safe and compassionate care to those in the Austin area experiencing homelessness. I would like to recognize her leadership in working to improve health equity in our community."

"Dr. Audrey Kuang and Dr. Tim Mercer led a team of healthcare providers in Austin at the beginning of the pandemic to swiftly identify index cases amongst people experiencing homelessness, provide needed medical care, and house and isolate patients.  Their incredible quick work surely averted many more infections and a potential outbreak and saved lives."

"Dr. Kuang is the fearless leader of our ARCH/Mobile/RV/Complex Care teams who serve the most vulnerable in our community – those experiencing homelessness. Early in the pandemic, she wrote to her team: “In our daily battle to keep our community healthy and safe, you have courageously put yourself before others. You forgo time with your families to serve our community. Your attitude is what I am humbled by the most – you may be scared and exhausted, but you show up every day, giving everything you have to flatten the curve.  Despite how quickly things change, you rapidly adapt and execute new plans and workflows, and get the job done. And in alignment with our team’s philosophy, we not only address testing, but we see the person in front of us – understanding their anxiety, and addressing their fears and concerns. I witnessed great compassion and care to all those who came through our drive thru.” Not only she embodies all the characteristics of her team members, but she is the selfless role model and the force that unifies and leads."

"Tim and Dr. Audrey Mercer led a team of healthcare providers in Austin at the beginning of the pandemic to swiftly identify index cases amongst people experiencing homelessness, provide needed medical care, and house and isolate patients.  Their incredible quick work surely averted many more infections and a potential outbreak and saved lives."

"Ai headed up the COVID Committee for Texas Orthopedics and managed contract tracing and COVID guidelines to help our organization of almost 400 people to safely navigate the pandemic."

"Dr. Mukai has served as the lead physician for Texas Orthopedics' internal COVID committee from day one. She has shown excellent leadership, drive, and determination to make sure we provide a safe environment for our staff and patients. We have striven to provide evidence based recommendations to all involved, and she has spearheaded this endeavor. Whether it be reviewing the latest data, providing individualized quarantine guidelines, or getting appropriate treatment arranged for those infected, Dr. Mukai has shown exceptional leadership abilities benefiting all of our employees and the community at large. All in the group have leaned on her expertise during these trying times, and I feel she would be an excellent recipient of this award."

"Manish worked relentlessly to expand telemedicine at ARC to ensure access to care for patients.  He led the pandemic committee at ARC to give doctors and employees accurate information and guidance on COVID data and treatment guidelines. He is available anytime for consultation and guidance."

"He has done an incredible job of keeping our entire organization up to date on the latest information and research available on everything COVID-related - the disease, treatments, vaccines, long-term outcomes, community trends, etc. The information available has been coming so fast and so spread out that in any normal day it is all really hard to process such varied information in a meaningful way. But he streamlined all the information into simple, useful, and relevant facts and continued to give us weekly (sometimes twice a week) updates from the very start of this pandemic in March 2020. He works tirelessly to make sure we have all the relevant information to provide the best medical care for our patients."

"Dr. Manish Naik, MD. Internal Medicine, ARC associate Chief of Internal Medicine and Chief Medical Information Officer. Manish has proven himself to be more than quietly exceptional in the trenches of the war against COVID-19.  As one of the leaders of ARC’s Pandemic Committee, he has made it his mission to provide as much clinical, data-driven, and scientific information as possible to every employee and to our patients and the community overall.  He accomplished this with emails that went out several times a week during the early stages of the pandemic, then bi-weekly or weekly, as new data and information come to light and clinical protocols are updated. He helped shape the clinical protocols that have allowed all ARC clinics to remain open to provide much needed medical care during the pandemic to our patients while having very robust safety protocol to ensure we are protecting our patients and staff, and has guided ARC’s quick ramp-up of telemedicine visits, helping improve the EHR process and ARC’s EHR portal, MyChart initiatives. Manish’s ability to translate scientific evidence into practical and pragmatic protocols and workflows, in particular, is impressive.  He has made himself available 24/7 to our physicians and staff, employers in the community and the media – we call him our “Pandemic Specialist” -  and helped translate complex information into easily-understood comments that help reassure the public.  Manish has done all this while seeing patients and helping lead ARC’s Internal Medicine Department as one of its co-Chiefs, and continuing his role as Chair of the Central Texas Health Information Collaborative.  His IM colleague and department chair, Dr. Sharon Liu, says of Manish, “his steady and cool demeanor and confidence in any situation make me thankful to have him as a co-chief”.  Manish has been truly exceptional throughout the pandemic, and we are all the better – colleagues, staff, patients, and the public - for it."

"Dr. Patel is simply amazing. Early during the pandemic, she volunteered to go to New York to help with care of patients with COVID. She is always engaged. To date, she takes care of patients alongside us."

"She has been on the front lines since day one, but also has organized many practices to meet this challenge.  She has worked hard to keep patients well and out of the hospital."  

"When COVID first hit, she moved a hundred primary care providers onto a virtual platform so they could continue to deliver care.  She helped to put together the COVID testing sites for Ascension in March and April, so the patients could get virtual visits and same-day testing.  Over the summer, she helped build outpatient COVID treatment sites so these patients could be seen outside of a hospital and followed (virtually) by nurses each day at home. This kept hundreds of patients out of the hospital during our busiest time!  She has now shifted to patient education (in English and Spanish) for our communities. She has trained dozens of nurse educators who have been running a busy triage line for months. She does all of this while still seeing her own outpatients in clinic each week. She is an inspiration!"

"Dr. Pickett has demonstrated his leadership throughout this pandemic.  One of the many key functions that he has provided is regular interactions with our physician community in coordination with TCMS and through social media outlets.  Dr. Pickett has also taken the lead for the City on several initiatives, including the EMS COVID-19 Clinical Consult Service, Alternate Care Site and the Regional Infusion Center development.  While the clause of 'other duties as assigned' has taken on a new meaning during the pandemic, Dr. Pickett without fail, has demonstrated his unwavering commitment to this city and to public service."

"Prashant greatly supported our immediate needs for redirecting patients to care in regards to walk in care, and COVID testing during this pandemic. He and his team did not hesitate so say 'I will go' and have been a phenomenal support to our community. He did not miss a beat! Very grateful for his dedication to his team and our patients."

“Since his TCMS presidency 10 years ago, Dr. Sayers has voiced his passion and concern for physician wellness and the prevention of burnout. These topics are of particular concern during the trying times of this pandemic. As chair of the physician wellness program (PWP), Brian’s focus has been on creating what he calls a 'safe harbor' for physicians through programs such as the Confidential Coaching Program, small groups like Finding Meaning in Medicine, and physician wellness symposiums. These are just a few examples of the tireless dedication to provider health that make Brian so invaluable to health care workers in Travis County and their families. During one of the PWP symposiums, he said 'I believe it is our moral obligation for us and our colleagues as a community to help our struggling or falling colleagues find their way back to True North.' His kindness and compassion are emblematic of his service.  Brian has distinguished himself as a hero during this pandemic by caring for the emotional well-being of his peers so that they can continue the important work of treating their patients.”

"As the CEO of CommUnityCare, Dr. Schalscha led a team of providers to continue to care for our patients during the COVID-19 pandemic."

"Dr. Shah has taken on a leadership role and has been on point for the COVID pts at Dell Seton Medical Center and at CommUnityCare.   Helping patients in both scenarios and their family’s make it through this uneasy time." 

"Dr. Shah plays an essential role to her patients, with her compassion, and thoughtful caring, working diligently to help patients and their family try to make sense of this COVID pandemic."

"She combines an easy no nonsenses approach to her patients needs. Helps her patient feeling comfort and cared about."

"Medical Director of CPL laboratories and he was instrumental in early pandemic with validation and implementation of up high volume reliable COVID molecular testing.  Supporting UT Dell Medical School patients and physicians, APH and other labs in addition to offering testing to regular CPL clients."

"Medical Director of CPL laboratories and he was instrumental in early pandemic with validation and implementation of up high volume reliable COVID molecular testing.  Supporting UT Dell Medical School patients and physicians, APH and other labs in addition to offering testing to regular CPL clients."

"Kept our littles safe during the pandemic. She and her entire pediatric team ensured safety for all our vulnerable precious young population with education to all of us from home care, school care and emotional and mental wellness for children of all ages."

"He works tirelessly to help critically ill COVID patients in the ICU to give them the best chance to survive the disease."

"Karen's smile and energetic approach to our patients, communities, teams and administration has remained constant during the time of the pandemic.  She has led and inspired those within her scope.  Never once has she voiced her fatigue and works each day as if it was her first.  Karen's charismatic approach to life is infective and has been so critically needed during the past year.  Karen, thank you for all you have done during the past year."

"Despite a pandemic, she has charged full speed ahead to assist our organization with the necessary steps we need to take to build on a successful care model for our patients, document in a new system, and champion our ever growing team of providers. She is an inspiration and a joy to work with. And it goes without saying she has helped keep us all safe and supported through a very difficult year that so many of us experience personal challenges. She has been a 'rock' for our team and clinic and we'll forever be grateful for her leadership."

"As the Director for Primary care, Dr. Yagoda has been providing updates on the latest developments in COVID 19 for our providers and has been a constant source of support for our clinical teams."

"Exceptional leader advocating for both patient access and team safety as CommUnityCare adapted to the pandemic. Dr. Yagoda helped organize our response and guide decisions with current evidence and level headed thinking."

"Dr. Yagoda took COVID seriously for staff safety at CommUnityCare early on.  With his vigorous efforts, there has been no staff-to-patient or patient-to-staff transmission and CUC was able to continue it's mission of providing equitable care to its underserved population."

"Nick has worked tirelessly on building a platform to support our fellow providers 1) emotionally through the start and one day the end of this pandemic, 2) armed us with knowledge, protocols, and structurally has lead the charge on COVID testing, and education for our teams and community 3) setting an example as always on how to lead and direct change with kindness, mindfulness all while hearing us, and supporting our organization during a pandemic. He's kind of a hero!"

"Dr. Yagoda was the lead physician in CommUnityCare’s robust COVID-19 rapid response efforts that include the following and much more:

"Providing COVID testing and primary care access to under-resourced populations, including racial and ethnic minorities within Travis County and surrounding areas. Many of the communities we serve have/had the highest percent positivity rate within our county and the poorest outcomes when hospitalized.  

"Robust patient education to promote health and prevent community transmission: during visits, posted signs, social media campaign, patient outreach, in English and Spanish.

"Addressing health disparities: we were the first organization to publish COVID infection rates by race, identifying the sharp disparities impact. We subsequently stood up drive-through testing locations in communities with limited access to care but high COVID disease burdens and we are now continuing with the vaccination efforts."

"Dr. Yorio has been an example for us all in the fight against COVID. He has been on the front line caring for patients from the very beginning.   He was one of the first, if not the first, physician in Austin to administer convalescent plasma to a patient, and was instrumental in helping to coordinate the CCP administration protocols.  He never refused to help with a project when I asked.  He posts regular updates on the TCMS COVID-19 website with clear, factual information and throws in some great classic-rock lyrics to boot! Dr. Yorio sets a high standard for knowledge, compassion, and professionalism, one that we can all aspire to. Thank you Dr. Yorio!"

"Dr. Zachary always keeps the David Powell Team notified of any public health changes related to COVID-19 including statistics in the Austin area and the most updated guidelines on how to interact with patients and care team members. He cares about his patients and team members safety related to COVID-19. He feels passionately about telephone visits for patients that would benefit during COVID-19. He is a big supporter of the COVID-19 vaccine for his patients and providers as well."