By Jamie Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org
Michelle Brownstein, MD, assistant professor of surgery, was honored with the 2016 H. Fleming Fuller Award at a ceremony on Nov. 21. The Fuller Award is among the UNC School of Medicine’s highest honors and is presented annually to the member of the medical staff who best demonstrates the highest standards of patient care, community leadership, and teaching.
During her remarks, Brownstein said she was humbled by the honor, directly addressing the members of the extended Fuller family in attendance.
“I want you to know that the legacy of your father and grandfather has now come full circle. There are so many previous recipients of this award who have served as great teachers and mentors to me, allowing me to be here today, and I hope to do the same for future winners,” Brownstein said.
Following Brownstein’s speech, Lyndon Fuller, one of Dr. Fuller’s sons, rose from his seat to read remarks from a speech his father gave when accepting an award late in his career. Fuller was emotional as he read his father’s words. The humble tone mirroring the remarks Brownstein had just delivered. In that moment, Fuller’s legacy had indeed come full circle.
Brownstein’s path to the Fuller award was also circuitous.
Following her surgical residency at UNC, Brownstein entered private practice in Raleigh. After several years, she left the practice. During this time, Brownstein described herself as a “stay-at-home surgeon” focusing on her four children and working as a writer and community advocate, including serving six years on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education.
But, she said, the desire to care for patients returned. She went through the process of being re-certified, completed a surgical-critical care fellowship in 2013 and joined the faculty at the UNC School of Medicine.
As a trauma surgeon, Brownstein said she values UNC Hospitals’ commitment to treating all patients, challenging members of the UNC Health Care Board of Directors to always remember the most vulnerable patients when making decisions on the future of health care. She used the story of a man who she treated during her time as a resident to illustrate her point.
The man, she said, had suffered with great pain, and by the time he arrived at the emergency department, Brownstein said she had limited options to treat his advanced condition.
“I asked him why he’d waited so long to come to the hospital and he looked at me and said ‘I finally got a ride,’” Brownstein said. “Twenty-five years later, I still hear heartbreaking stories like that all the time, these people need our care.”
In recommending Brownstein for the award, Melina Kibbe, MD, Zach D. Owens Professor and Chair, Department of Surgery, praised Brownstein’s ability to connect, not only with all of her patients, but also with all members of the medical staff.
“As a trauma surgeon, Dr. Brownstein has the opportunity to provide care for patients and their families during some of the most stressful times of their lives,” Kibbe wrote.
“Sometimes the intensity of what needs to be done can have a profound emotional impact on those who witness trauma. Dr. Brownstein is cognizant of this and is sensitive to not only the needs of the patient, the also the family, providers, trainees, and students and serves as a consummate role model.”