Dr. Cushman-Vokoun honored as UNMC’s Varner Educator Laureate

Allison Cushman-Vokoun, MD, PhD

Allison Cushman-Vokoun, MD, PhD

Allison Cushman-Vokoun, MD, PhD, remembers the guidance from her pathology mentors: You need to be in the gross pathology lab examining specimens. You need to be looking at slides under the microscope.

“That’s how you really learn,” she was told then.

Now Dr. Cushman-Vokoun can reflect, “And they are totally right.”

Thank you

Dr. Cushman-Vokoun would like to thank all of her UNMC pathology mentors, past and present, who have given her such an invaluable experience. She says this award is a testament to their dedicated teaching and expertise that they provided to her over the years, and still do today.

Having built her career as an educator, Dr. Cushman-Vokoun, professor in the UNMC Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, has carried forth that philosophy in teaching UNMC’s students and trainees in pathology and molecular genetics.

“Experience is the best teacher by far,” she said, reflecting her priority in giving trainees real-world experience, working with cases for patients who have real medical issues, such as cancer, and working in the laboratory where medical insight comes into view.

“Reading about it in a textbook or reviewing a PowerPoint presentation, that’s all great – you have to do those things,” Dr. Cushman-Vokoun said. “But you really need to make sure that you’re in the clinic, in the lab and, in pathology, down in the gross room or looking at slides under the microscope.

“In medicine especially, that’s the greatest source of education – the experience of learning.”

Today (Feb. 29), Dr. Cushman-Vokoun is coming full-circle from internalizing that message as a student to spreading that message as an educator. She will be honored with the Varner Educator Laureate Award for 2023-24 – the highest honor given to educators at UNMC.

Dr. Cushman-Vokoun said she’s humbled and honored to receive the award, when she sees so many wonderful educators at UNMC. She said she is inspired by UNMC’s innovative educational programs and the faculty behind them.

Not only has Dr. Cushman-Vokoun grown her own career at UNMC, she’s grown the depth of the education at UNMC, as well.

Varner Educator Laureate

The award is the highest education honor conferred by UNMC. It recognizes an individual with sustained achievement in education who has significantly improved the UNMC learning environment through the provision of outstanding educational experiences. The award is sponsored by Jerald Varner, PhD.

After growing up in Omaha, she attended Washington University in St. Louis for her undergraduate education before entering UNMC’s MD-PhD Scholars Program. She earned her PhD in molecular pharmacology research and later her MD, realizing that she wanted to follow a career in pathology and her interest in molecular genetics.

In 2009, Dr. Cushman-Vokoun joined the UNMC faculty with a focus in the growing area of molecular pathology and solid tumors. As precision medicine rose to prominence – especially with next generation sequencing technology used to profile cancer – she became Medical Director of the Molecular Diagnostics and Personalized Medicine Laboratory and Director of the Division of Diagnostic Molecular Pathology and Human Genetics.

By 2014, she led the task of creating a Molecular Genetic Pathology Fellowship at UNMC, which earned accreditation through the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Throughout the fellowship’s existence, she has served as its program director.

“It’s been just really rewarding growing a fellowship program,” Dr. Cushman-Vokoun said.

That is where Dr. Cushman-Vokoun puts experience to work as a teacher.

With her office in the Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases, she will take the opportunity to personally teach through the cases she sees with her fellow: Here is this case and this is what I did with it and why.

“Being able to take a case and go next door and talk about it is the most important kind of teaching,” she said.

And that is how medical students, residents and fellows truly learn how to take care of a patient, she said.

“Every single case, there’s something to learn from it,” Dr. Cushman-Vokoun said. “That’s really important – the best educators are the ones that are able to take a specific case and really take something away and teach a point from that.”

Dr. Cushman-Vokoun has been recognized for her contributions to education before, receiving the 2022 James Newland Distinguished Pathology Educator Award.

She also remains involved with the MD-PhD Scholars Program, serving as an associate director, and takes pride in serving as a mentor. For that, she was awarded the 2022 MD-PhD Alumni Engagement Award.

Dr. Cushman-Vokoun also extends her health education experience nationally, having served on the Association for Molecular Pathology Training and Education Committee, as the President of the AMP MGP Program Directors Council, as the Pathology and Genetics Representative for the National Board of Medical Examiners, as a member of the MGP Subspecialty Examination Test Development Committee for the American Board of Pathology and as a member of the College of American Pathologists Personalized Health Care Committee.

At UNMC, she’s proud of what she’s helped build as an educator.

When she looks back at her fellows since the fellowship program’s creation, Dr. Cushman-Vokoun sees a measure of her impact. Out of eight fellows in the program, six have continued as faculty at UNMC.

“That’s probably been the most rewarding part of this,” Dr. Cushman-Vokoun said, “is just seeing our faculty grow, in part because of the fellowship, the program that I helped to create.”


  1. Lisa Ross says:

    Congratulations Dr.Cushman-Vokoun

  2. Chad Vokoun says:

    Congratulations! She has certainly taught me a thing or two! Jamison and I are Very Proud!

  3. Jana Wardian says:

    Congratulations. Here’s to many more years of sharing your knowledge with others.

  4. Alex Maskin says:

    Amazing accomplishment! Well deserved!

  5. Michelle Grady says:

    Congratulations, Dr. Cushman-Vokoun!! What an incredible honor…so happy for you!!

  6. Sharleen Rapp says:

    Congratulations! We certainly appreciate her teaching all of us here in the lab!

  7. Mike Wadman says:

    Congratulations Dr. Cushman-Vokoun! Great to see this recognition of your outstanding work.

  8. Weiwei Zhang says:

    Congratulations! We have learned a LOT from you.

  9. Shelley Smith says:

    Congratulations! You have done so much for the medical school and the MD-PhD program!

  10. Krishna Gundabolu says:

    Congratulations Dr. Cushman-Vokoun!

  11. Karsten Bartels says:


  12. mellissa helligso says:

    Congratulations! It’s great to be recognized for all of your hard work and dedication!

  13. Zhenya Tang says:


  14. Charlie Murrin says:

    Congratulations, Allison! You have always been a standout!

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