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College to honor Peter Densen as Distinguished Mentor

On Wednesday, September 3 at 3 PM, the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine will present the 12th annual Distinguished Mentor Award to Peter Densen, M.D., professor of internal medicine. The ceremony will take place in the Prem Sahai Auditorium in the Medical Education and Research Facility. The ceremony will also feature the Distinguished Mentor Lecture by Bonnie Bassler, Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and professor and chair of molecular biology at Princeton University. Bassler and her colleagues have made foundational discoveries about the mechanisms by which bacteria communicate. The title of her talk is “Tiny Conspiracies: Cell to Cell Communication in Bacteria.” A reception will follow the ceremony and lecture in the atrium adjoining the auditorium.

Dr. Densen was selected as this year’s award recipient in recognition of his sustained nurturing mentorship in his many leadership roles within the College throughout his career. In his nominating letter Dr. Gerard Clancy wrote: “There are thousands of us who are proud and grateful to have Peter Densen as our mentor to this day. We are previous University of Iowa undergraduates, medical students, physician's assistant students, resident physicians and fellows. We are professional staff and faculty who have emerged to leadership positions under the guidance of Dr. Densen.”

Densen comes from a family of professional educators. He especially credits his grandfather, two medical school faculty – W. Barry Wood, Jr. and Philip A. Tumulty, and two deans, James A. Clifton and Robert P. Kelch, for the influential roles they played in his own professional development. “And, I have been extremely fortunate to have been surrounded by wonderful colleagues who have been extraordinarily tolerant of my love of exploring new ideas and then translating them to reality.”

Although Dr. Densen is widely recognized for his work on complement deficiencies and neisserial infections, at Iowa, he is best known for his dedicated leadership and contributions to medical education. Just a few years after joining the Department of Internal Medicine, he was named the department’s associate chair for medical student education programs. Shortly thereafter, Interim Dean James A. Clifton tapped him to become the college’s first associate dean for curriculum. As Densen transitioned into administration, he led the college through a dramatic overhaul of its curriculum, participated in the re-design of the medical campus, directed the design of facilities dedicated to medical education, and initiated the innovative development of the Medical Learning Communities to foster a supportive learning environment for students, staff, and faculty alike.

Densen empowered those with whom he worked to be able to fulfill their roles in the office to the fullest as well as to grow in their professional positions. “One is able to achieve more than she believes possible with the level of encouragement and support provided by Peter.” Another colleague remembers being urged to think outside the box. “I vividly remember making an appointment to meet with Peter in order to persuade him to introduce computer-based clinical decision­ making scenarios into the curriculum and to introduce computer-based testing. I was expecting to have to convince him to support this initiative. To my surprise, he looked at me and said ‘I have been waiting for someone to come to me with this type of proposal. Go make it happen.’ I remember thinking at the time how liberating this type of leadership was and it stimulated me to continue to test new approaches to education for the students.”

A former student – now faculty member recalls “He was always open to discussing pretty much anything under the sun and he always had time for me. I met with him on my brightest days and on my darkest days and he was an amazing support.”

Throughout his tenure as an administrator, culminating in his appointment as executive dean, Densen has continued to nurture students and colleagues alike. This breadth of mentorship in academic medicine—in some instances spanning a mentee’s career from student to faculty member to dean—is one of the things that sets him apart. His numerous teaching honors include the inaugural UI President and Provost Award for Teaching Excellence, in 2004, and the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award for faculty, in 2012.

The Distinguished Mentor Award and Lecture were established and are supported by a gift to the UI Foundation from UI graduates Nancy Granner and Daryl Granner, M.D., of North Liberty, Iowa. Both received bachelor's degrees at the UI in 1958. Daryl Granner, a Distinguished Alumnus of the UI, also received a Master of Science degree and a medical degree from the UI in 1962. He was a UI College of Medicine faculty member from 1970 to 1984 and directed the endocrinology division from 1975 to 1984. Granner currently is professor emeritus of internal medicine and physiology, as well as founding director emeritus of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center at the UI.

The Distinguished Mentor Award honors current or former Carver College of Medicine faculty members for outstanding mentoring and substantial impact on trainees who have, in turn, led distinguished careers. The Distinguished Mentor Lecture brings to the UI leading scientists who embody the ideals of the award and its recipient.