School of Medicine staff given service awards​

The nickname “Radar” says a lot about Pam Gassner’s pivotal role within Washington University School of Medicine’s Division of Dermatology, where she serves as division administrator.

“Pam is absolutely indispensable,” said the division’s chief, Lynn Cornelius, MD, the Winfred A. and Emma R. Showman Professor in Dermatology. “She understands the nuances of research management, payroll and human resources within the division, is on top of everything, and her sage advice is welcomed by both staff and faculty.”

Gassner, this year’s winner of the prestigious Dean’s Distinguished Service Award, has accumulated accolades for her competence and dedication for more than a quarter century at the university. She joined the School of Medicine as a medical secretary in the Division of Cardiology in October 1987, just as the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team began the World Series. The Cards lost that year, but cardiology won an excellent employee, her colleagues agree.

Gassner’s work ethic, excellent professional skills and attention to detail led to higher level positions in surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, and to the dean’s office before she joined the Division of Dermatology in 2000 as an administrative coordinator. She was named division administrator there in 2011.

Faculty support in managing grants is a key role at which Gassner clearly excels.

“Her knowledge of current National Institutes of Health (NIH) policy, rules and guidelines makes her an invaluable resource,” said Liang Ma, PhD, associate professor of medicine. “I feel spoiled because I know Pam will ensure that each grant application is prepared correctly. Her competence at grants enables the faculty to focus on science.”

Cristina De Guzman Strong, PhD, assistant professor of medicine, first met Gassner four years ago while interviewing for the faculty position she now holds. “Pam’s attention to detail impressed me during that process. I know now that it’s a daily commitment that just comes naturally to her. Pam accompanies everything she does for the division with a smile and encouragement. She is truly the face of the division.”

One of Gassner’s major accomplishments during her career at the School of Medicine was helping develop the original Washington University Physician Handbook, the first comprehensive compilation of medical school policies and procedures available to faculty. Today, she is often among the administrative leadership group piloting new programs.

Cornelius noted that beyond the university, Gassner goes above and beyond expected work-related duties to support the “Sprint for Skin Cancer,” an annual 5K event in Tower Grove Park that raises awareness about skin cancers and melanoma. She also works to raise funds for the Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) Association and the Knights of Columbus’ efforts to aid those with developmental disabilities and other mental challenges.

“As honored as I am to receive such a prestigious award,” said Gassner, “I am equally as honored to work with such a caring and professional group of faculty and staff members in the Division of Dermatology.”

Larry J. Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, presented the award to Gassner and to this year’s two other staff award winners at surprise gatherings in their departments. “I particularly enjoy the opportunity to recognize members of our excellent staff,” said Shapiro. “These awardees embody the integral and vital role of staff in creating and sustaining our exceptional institution.”

The 2014 Research Support Award was presented to Peggy Frisella, who manages research operations for the Department of Surgery. Frisella also joined the School of Medicine just before the World Series in 1987. Her winning ways in her initial role as a staff nurse in the Department of Surgery led to a promotion in 1990 to nurse research patient coordinator in the department.

Peggy Frisella was awarded the Research Support Award. She is shown with Larry J. Shapiro (left) and L. Michael Brunt, MD. (Credit: Ray Marklin)

A decade of demonstrated excellence, initiative and leadership later, Frisella began working with the Washington University Institute for Minimally Invasive Surgery and by 2004 had been promoted to clinical laboratory manager. She accepted her current role as manager of research operations for the Department of Surgery in 2011.

“Peggy is truly unique in her role,” said L. Michael Brunt, MD, a professor of surgery and director of the Institute for Minimally Invasive Surgery. “She functions at an extremely high level and is an equal partner with the physicians and surgeons with whom she works and interacts. Simply put, the research lab would not function at the level it does without Peggy’s guidance and leadership.”

Among her duties, Frisella helps guide the investigative efforts of research fellows. She is an author of 60 peer-reviewed publications.

A primary responsibility for Frisella is organizing and running postgraduate courses within the institute that cross multiple surgical divisions as well as gastroenterology. Her leadership in this area led to an appointment to the Society of Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons Global Affairs committee and travel to Mongolia with a global outreach and training program in laparoscopic surgery.

Frisella is co-founder of Surgical Outreach for the Americas, a nonprofit organization that provides surgical care in underserved countries. “Peggy tirelessly seeks funding for this group, organizes surgical and allied health teams and equipment, and manages the day-to-day operations of the missions in developing countries,” said Brunt. He noted that Frisella also donates her time locally to a homeless shelter.

“Peggy not only reflects the mission of the School of Medicine in her job,” said Brunt. “She represents the best of our institution to the St. Louis community and internationally.”

The 2014 Operations Staff Award went to Amy Stabenow, who joined the School of Medicine in 2000 as business director for the Department of Anesthesiology.

Amy Stabenow received the Operations Staff Award. She is pictured with Alex S. Evers, MD, (left), head of the Department of Anesthesiology, and Larry J. Shapiro. (Credit: Ray Marklin)

In this role, Stabenow is responsible for the business management of more than 80 anesthesiology operation locations throughout Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the Center for Advanced Medicine, Missouri Baptist Obstetrics and Gynecology and a regional anesthesia program.

Leading a team of eight administrators, Stabenow is accountable for ensuring the correct anesthesia provider skill mix for patients at each location, maximizing resident and fellow educational experiences in those locations, and optimizing the business aspects of anesthesia delivery.

“Amy’s exceptional work ethic, business knowledge and analytical skills extend beyond the Anesthesiology Department,” said Barry Guild, director of business operations for the department. “She collaborated with senior leaders to spearhead an analytical review that established the productivity and utilization of the operating rooms across the Barnes network.”

The review illustrated opportunities to reduce costs and capital investments while maintaining excellence in patient care.

“That could not have been achieved without Amy’s incredible drive and dedication,” said Guild.