Stanford’s medical school dean, Philip Pizzo, MD, is a modest fellow who works quietly on major efforts without seeking to draw attention to himself. But I could sense his excitement when he notified us that he has received the highest honor any pediatrician could hope for – the John Howland Medal from the American Pediatric Society, the nation’s oldest and most distinguished research group in pediatrics.
For those in the field, it’s rather like being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
For anyone who knows Pizzo, it’s not a total surprise. He is truly passionate about caring for children and did some of the groundbreaking work in pediatric AIDS at the NIH in the very early days of the epidemic, helping establish treatment guidelines and approaches to prevention. He’s always been an advocate for children, including lobbying Congress for funding to support children’s hospitals around the country (his work culminated in legislation that provides about $300 million a year for training pediatric residents and to pay for care of children whose families cannot afford it).
At Stanford, where he became dean in 2001, his energy is legendary. He starts the day before dawn with a run (he logs 50 to 70 miles a week), then checks into the office around 6 a.m. He has begun a dizzying array of initiatives, from revamping the curriculum, to reorganizing the research enterprise into five major institutes and spearheading the construction of a high-tech, architecturally stunning home for the school, the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge.
Remarkably, he still finds time to serve on many boards, including the Institute of Medicine’s Health Science Policy Board and an IOM committee that recently handed down an expansive report on pain in America. He lobbied for the passage of the initiative that created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state’s $3 billion stem cell program, and was the first person named to CIRM’s Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee.
Above all, he is a genuinely kind, compassionate and modest person. In receiving the honor, he said, he was “deeply honored and humbled.” He told me:
I have been privileged to be part of science and medicine for the past decades, during which I have witnessed firsthand the dramatic changes that basic and clinical research have played in improving human life. I have particularly valued whatever personal contributions I have been able to make on behalf of children and families facing the challenge of major illness. It is indeed a privilege to be honored for doing something that I have cared about so passionately and deeply throughout my career.