Annual NMA awards go to two at UNMC

by Vicky Cerino, UNMC strategic communications | October 06, 2021

Image with caption: From left, Natasha Hongsermeier-Graves and Alëna Balasanova, MD

From left, Natasha Hongsermeier-Graves and Alëna Balasanova, MD

Two from UNMC are among six to receive 2021 awards from the Nebraska Medical Association during its annual membership meeting recently.

Alëna Balasanova, MD, is the recipient of the NMA’s 2021 Young Physician of the Year Award and Student Advocate of the Year is Natasha Hongsermeier-Graves, a UNMC medical student. 

Dr. Balasanova is an assistant professor for the UNMC Department of Psychiatry and a staff psychiatrist at Nebraska Medicine. She holds several other academic appointments.

"I am incredibly grateful to the Nebraska Medical Association and to my nominators for this tremendous honor," Dr. Balasanova said. "I continue to be awe-inspired by the young physicians awarded before me and am genuinely humbled to be considered among our state’s greats."

The Young Physician of the Year Award is given to a physician under age 40 who consistently achieves high standards in the practice of medicine. The recipient is looked upon as a role model to peers, residents, medical students, other health professionals and in the community, as well as making a significant difference in the life of a patient, staff member or colleague.

"Dr. Balasanova is an incredible clinician with a genuine love for educating both trainees and practicing physicians," wrote her nominator. "She recently received the American Medical Association Foundation Award for Health Education, (which) highlighted her work creating curricula for students, residents and fellows in the care of patients with addictions. She also has been instrumental in the establishment of an inpatient service line as well as an outpatient clinic that both focus on addiction psychiatry.

"Most recently, she has focused on passing legislation through the Nebraska unicameral to limit the prior authorization requirements for medications to treat opioid use disorder. This has required considerable time to educate legislators and their staff as well as other state officials on the harm that can come to Nebraskans when prior authorization delays treatment for opioid use disorder."

As Student Advocate of the Year, Hongsermeier-Graves is being recognized for playing a crucial role in enhancing the NMA's public policy priorities.

Some of the award criteria include: proven and successful outcomes with national and/or state-level advocacy initiatives; goes beyond their primary role as a student by advocating for the well-being of physicians, patients and communities in which they serve; and encourages, supports and motivates their colleagues to participate in NMA advocacy work.

"This honor means far more to me than any rotation grade or accomplishment in medical school," said Hongsermeier, who also is pursuing a master’s in public health at Harvard. "I am so grateful to my faculty and peer mentors at UNMC and the Nebraska Medical Association who have taught me what it means to be an effective health policy advocate."

A nominator wrote: "Armed with the advocacy experience she gained in organized medicine, Natasha spearheaded student advocacy in Nebraska to replace biased race-based kidney function testing with non-race-based metrics to reduce disparities in disease outcomes. This made Nebraska the first state in the midwest to make these changes, including at a family practice clinic in Aurora, and at Nebraska Medicine. She has also developed provider education surrounding these changes."

Daniel Gih
October 06, 2021 at 3:06 PM

Go #WomenInMedicine!

Neil Kalsi
October 06, 2021 at 12:12 PM

Fantastic! Congratulations to you both - very well deserved!

Brigette Vaughan
October 06, 2021 at 9:04 AM

Congratulations, Dr. Balasanova! Your passion for your work is inspiring!

Elizabeth Morris
October 06, 2021 at 8:59 AM

Congratulations to you both!

Dr. Sheritta Strong
October 06, 2021 at 8:01 AM

Congratulations to two awesome ladies in medicine!

Kenneth Zoucha
October 06, 2021 at 7:45 AM

Congratulations to two outstanding folks at UNMC. Dr. Balasanova continues to be recognized for her work with patients, education and advocacy!

Lucy Muinov
October 06, 2021 at 6:16 AM

Congratulations, Dr. Alēna Balasanova and Natasha Hongsermeier-Graves! What an honor and so well deserved!