The Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians (MAFP) recognized a University of Minnesota Medical School faculty member, alumni, a resident and medical student as part of its 2021 Academy Awards. Among the honorees are faculty member Raymond Christensen, MD, alumni Heather Bell, MD, and Kurt DeVine, MD, resident Ramla Namisango Kasozi, MD, MPH, and medical student Tegan Carr. 

Educator of the Year

Raymond Christensen, MD, associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and BioBehavioral Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth Campus and associate director of the Rural Physician Associate Program (RPAP), was named MAFP’s 2021 Educator of the Year. Over the course of Dr. Christensen’s 50-year career, he’s educated countless family medicine physicians and has remained a steadfast advocate for rural health.

“Despite being a national figure in medical education and rural health, students find Dr. Christensen as approachable as a longtime family friend,” Kirby Clark, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health and director of RPAP, said in a press release. “Students seek his counsel, which he generously provides day and night — not only about navigating medical school but also about residency and their future careers. There are countless physicians, particularly rural family physicians, who would name Dr. Christensen as one of their most supportive and influential mentors.”

This passion to improve care in rural communities brought him to Duluth's rural programs and the U's RPAP programs on both campuses, where he has helped develop innovative curriculum, collaborated with policymakers and served in local and national leadership roles. Dr. Christensen has been recognized by the Minnesota Department of Health, the University of Minnesota and the National Rural Health Association for his excellence as an educator and his patient care and outreach work.

Resident of the Year

Ramla Namisango Kasozi, MD, MPH, a third-year U of M Medical School resident with the U of M St. John’s Hospital family medicine residency program, was selected as Resident of the Year for her community involvement, leadership and educational activities. Dr. Kasozi has been a proponent of making anti-racism curriculum a requirement for medical education at all levels and has focused her work on addressing the root causes of health inequities. Elected by her peers, Dr. Kasozi also serves on the MAFP Health Equity Committee, where she champions advocacy, anti-racism and equity work. 

"I’m humbled to have been recognized as the 2021 Resident of The Year. Receiving this award allows me to appreciate that organizations, like MAFP, are moving in the right direction in acknowledging scholarly and community work relating to racism in medicine — which I have been heavily involved in during my family medicine residency,” Dr. Kasozi said. “This award further motivates me to continue my scholarly work in social justice and to create new strategies to address maternal health in women of color, health equity and race-based medicine.” 

Dr. Kasozi was part of the M Health Fairview Team that removed race from estimated glomerular filtration rate calculations, is part of the Black Healer Network and has been interviewed by news outlets including the Sahan Journal

“In the next chapter of my career, I look forward to bridging comprehensive clinical care with community public health in an effort to reduce health disparities by creating community-oriented primary health care initiatives while working in academic medicine," Dr. Kasozi said.

Medical Student Leadership Award

Tegan Carr, a second-year U of M Medical School student who started on the Duluth Campus, won the Medical Student Leadership Award for her family medicine advocacy work. She founded the Task Force 4 Change, the Duluth Campus’ branch of the Medical Education Reform Student Coalition, and helped create the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Student Ambassador program. These groups promote curriculum on health inequities, anti-racism training, removing race-based medicine from practice and education and increasing underrepresented populations within the student body and faculty. 

“Even at this early stage of her career, Tegan embodies the idea of a physician advocate, recognizing that our duty as physicians, as stated in the American Medical Association Declaration of Professional Duties, is to ‘advocate for the social, economic, educational and political changes that ameliorate suffering and contribute to human wellbeing,’” Mary Owen, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and BioBehavioral Health and director of the Center of American Indian and Minority Health, said in a press release. “Last year, while COVID-19 raged and tension over the persistent, racially motivated killing of Black and brown people erupted, Tegan harnessed much of her grief and got busy fighting for others. She demonstrates great leadership, lifting others up and encouraging them to lead as well.”

Carr is also an active researcher, leading projects exploring health access in Native American communities, healthcare for underrepresented populations and equity in academic medicine. Having previously worked in the mental health field, Carr hopes to integrate and apply takeaways from psychiatric care in the primary care setting.

Family Physician of the Year 

Heather Bell, MD, class of 2009, and Kurt DeVine, MD, class of 1987, both of Little Falls, Minn., were named Family Physician of the Year for their pursuit of compassionate, comprehensive patient care and involvement in the community where they practice. Drs. Bell and DeVine are colleagues specializing in family and addiction medicine and have championed opioid prescribing programs and expansion of medication-assisted treatment access throughout Minnesota. 

Through a state-funded opioid abuse prevention pilot that they co-founded, Drs. Bell and DeVine mentor physicians and communities around over-prescribing of opioids, including a weekly didactic and case-based learning session on treating substance use disorders. Apart from advocating for better treatment and access, they co-host “The Addiction Connection” podcast, which aims to inform and educate listeners about substance use disorders.

“As rural family doctors, Drs. Bell and DeVine identified a care gap within their community around rising opioid use and related issues. In an effort to close this gap, they began using medication-assisted treatment with buprenorphine as part of their primary care practice and were able to demonstrate success in patient outcomes and cost savings,” Andrew Slattengren, DO, MAFP President and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, said in a press release. “These important lessons needed to be shared and have led to education and mentoring of physicians across the state on opioid prescribing and buprenorphine treatment.”