Hirschmann prize recognizes teaching excellence

by Robb Crouch, University of Nebraska Foundation | August 28, 2003

Hirschmann Prize for Teaching Excellence Recipients

Dr. S. James Booth, associate professor, pathology & microbiology
Dr. Grant Hutchins, assistant professor, internal medicine

Dr. Robert Binhammer, professor, vice chairman & head of gross anatomy
Dr. David O'Dell, associate professor, internal medicine

Dr. Kurtis Cornish, associate professor, physiology & biophysics
Dr. LeeRoy Meyer, professor, internal medicine

Students at the college of medicine get a chance to grade their teachers with the Hirschmann Prize for Teaching Excellence, an award that puts students in charge of choosing two faculty recipients each year.

"We finally have a chance to reflect on our medical school careers and think about professors who made a difference in our lives and education," said Matt Mendlick, a recent UNMC College of Medicine graduate and 2003 class president.

"Questions such as, 'Who influenced me the most?' and 'Who would I model my [medical] practice after?' and 'Will I ever have the ability to teach like this person?' now have answers," he said. "I believe the answers are found in the winners of the Hirschmann Prize."

The Hirschmann prize was established in 2000 with a gift from College of Medicine graduates Jerome Hirschmann, a retired cardiologist, and his son, Richard Hirschmann, a pediatric anesthesiologist, both of the Chicago area.

The gift fills an important need on campus by giving students an opportunity to recognize faculty for their devotion to teaching and innovation in teaching methods.

"My father and I wanted to invest in the people who really make the College of Medicine great and who raise the quality of teaching there," Richard Hirschmann said shortly after announcing the gift. "It's an attempt to recognize and reward those whose teaching affects students and impresses on them the desire to care deeply about patients and their quality of life."

So far, three College of Medicine graduating classes have had the opportunity to select both a clinical and a research faculty member to receive the award and the accompanying monetary gift, which is funded through the Hirschmanns' endowment at the University of Nebraska Foundation. The award and prize are announced at the college's annual honors convocation and hooding ceremony.

Students selected LeeRoy Meyer, M.D., professor of internal medicine, as one of the first recipients.

"It makes you feel very good," Dr. Meyer said. "It greatly increases our enthusiasm for teaching to be recognized by the students. It tells us that students feel the effort we put forth is worthwhile and that what we're doing is appreciated."

Dr. Meyer is using his award in a way that directly benefits students: he purchases medical textbooks for students to use while working on clinical problems.

"I'm not sure if you're aware of the size of the textbooks we use in medicine, but believe me they're large, heavy and expensive," Dr. Meyer said. "They're too impractical to carry around everyday, so I provide them so students have a quick reference."

Dr. Meyer says he regularly presents students with clinical problems, which they must solve using the reference materials. "Although I have them read many journal articles, the textbooks are still the most efficient way of getting information," he said. "Some of the students may have one of the texts, but not all of them."

It's exactly this type of teacher the Hirschmann family was anxious to see students recognize.

"A good teacher in medical school -- a teacher who acts as a mentor and someone who communicates the principles of the medical field to students -- affects more than just the student," Richard Hirschmann said.

"I know in my care of patients over the years, I've thought back over things I learned at UNMC that greatly affected the care I was then able to provide my patients."