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William Schaffner, M.D.

Schaffner’s efforts lauded by ACP

BY: CRAIG BOERNER

4/24/2009 - The American College of Physicians (ACP) presented Vanderbilt's William Schaffner, M.D., with the James D. Bruce Award for Distinguished Contributions in Preventive Medicine on Thursday at the ACP annual scientific meeting in Philadelphia.

Schaffner, best known for his work promoting prevention and public health at the local, state and national levels, is the first Vanderbilt recipient of the annual award established by the ACP Board of Regents in 1946 to honor Bruce, an ACP governor, regent and president.

Past recipients include Nobel Prize winner Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine, and Donald Henderson, an American physician and epidemiologist who worked to eradicate smallpox during the 1960s.

“When one considers Vanderbilt's real impact on society over the years, one immediately thinks of Bill Schaffner,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

“Bill began teaching us all about effective prevention in health care, locally and nationally, long before it was fashionable. It's just impossible to measure the impact he's had on the lives of people, here and around the world.”

Schaffner has chaired the Department of Preventive Medicine since 1982 and has a collaborative relationship with both the Tennessee Department of Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that extends nearly four decades.

“Dr. Schaffner has dedicated his career to integrating prevention into patient care, especially in the area of infectious diseases,” said Dennis Schaberg, M.D., an infectious disease specialist who chairs the awards committee of the ACP.

“He has mentored an enormous number of physicians to follow his lead … my own career was influenced dramatically to pursue prevention aspects of ID from working with Bill. The Bruce Award is a fitting tribute to this leader in American Preventive Medicine."

Schaffner was nominated by Michael Decker, M.D., Vanderbilt adjunct professor of Preventive Medicine and vice president of scientific and medical affairs for Sanofi Pasteur USA.

Decker's letter of recommendation states that Schaffner is the “national exemplar of melding clinical and academic practice with prevention and public health.”
Schaffner was among the pioneers who brought forth rigorous infection control programs in hospitals in the 1960s and is a lifetime promoter of immunization across the entire age spectrum.

His contributions to public health also extend out of the infectious disease realm, as Decker and he provided the first explicit documentation that car restraint seats profoundly reduced infant and child injuries and deaths in car crashes.

Schaffner has been an ACP fellow since 1971 and was elected a Master of the College in 2004. He has had various roles in ACP activities over the years as a speaker, board member and committee chairperson.

He has received numerous awards for his course teaching and mentoring, including a teaching award named in his honor by Vanderbilt's Division of Infectious Diseases.

“When Dr. Schaffner's children were young, and asked him what he did, his answer was not that he was a doctor or a researcher,” Decker wrote. “He told them he was a teacher, and that may be his deepest self-identity. Indeed, he likes to remind us that the Latin root of ‘doctor’ is ‘teacher.’”

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