Thursday, March 27, 2014
Richard “Dick” P. Wenzel, M.D., a professor and former chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, this month received the International Federation of Infection Control’s 2014 Martin S. Favero Award.
Presented at the 2014 IFIC Conference in Malta, the award recognizes the lifetime achievements of individuals who have made significant contributions to the field of infection prevention and control worldwide. Wenzel’s body of work includes significant contributions on the epidemiology of hospital-acquired infections, especially bloodstream infections and sepsis.
“Dick Wenzel is one of the founders of hospital epidemiology,” said Jerome F. Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine. “His writings and individuals who trained under him have had a profound impact on infection control and prevention across the globe. He is highly deserving of this international recognition, which brings honor to him and is a source of pride for the Department of Internal Medicine and the School of Medicine."
Hospital-acquired infections affect 5 percent of patients in the developed world who are in acute care institutions and up to 50 percent of hospitalized patients in developing nations.
“They add remarkable morbidity, mortality and costs above those expected from the underlying diseases alone,” Wenzel said.
In the United States, the deaths from hospital-acquired infections are recognized by CDC to be equivalent to the eighth-leading cause of death.
In Wenzel’s work to study and combat hospital-acquired infections, he has authored more than 500 scientific publications and six textbooks. He is also the first editor-at-large of The New England Journal of Medicine and the founding editor of the journals Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology and Clinical Performance and Quality Health Care.
“What is amazing is the recognition over the last few decades that hospital-acquired infections are extremely important, that they have adverse consequences and that they are often preventable,” he said. “Moreover, the general public has paid attention to these infections and supports control measures actively.”
But challenges do still exist.
“The major change in the last decade has been the recognition that more and more of these infections are caused by bacteria increasingly resistant to available antibiotics,” he said. “This is the key challenge today and it is complicated by fewer and fewer pharmaceutical companies investing in anti-infective agents.”
The young hospital epidemiologists of today are those who will address these challenges in the future, and Wenzel, who has been at VCU since 1995, said the most rewarding aspect of his work has been training more than 50 of those epidemiologists.
“They have become members of the family, and we have stayed in touch over decades as I have followed as their own bright careers flourish all over the world,” he said.
Michael B. Edmond, M.D., is one of the epidemiologists who trained under Wenzel. He is now Richard P. Wenzel Professor of Internal Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at VCU.
“I suspect that all of [Wenzel’s other students], like me, would describe their training with him as a magical time – a time of exploring exciting ideas, of learning to think critically and to refine analytical skills, of feeling that you were a part of a community of scholars – past and present – all sharing the same goals. All of this was wonderfully and carefully shepherded by Dick.”
In 2001, The National Institutes of Health recognized Wenzel’s influence on students by naming him one of the 10 “Great Teachers” in clinical medicine service.
In addition to teaching, conducting research and treating patients, Wenzel is an essayist and fiction writer.
His 2005 collection of essays, “Stalking Microbes: A Relentless Pursuit of Infection Control,” and his 2010 novel, “Labyrinth of Terror,” have both been met with praise as his peers have called him an excellent storyteller.
Sherwin B. Nuland, M.D., professor of surgery emeritus at Yale University School of Medicine, wrote of Wenzel’s “Stalking Microbes”: “What is more fascinating than a medical career spent in the front lines of the battle against infectious disease? And who is better qualified to tell the exciting stories of the campaign than one of its ablest generals, the gifted and empathetic Richard Wenzel?”
Wenzel said his war stories translate easily.
“The interaction of people and microbes is so fascinating and sometimes so unpredictable that it is easy to write both fiction and nonfiction stories about infectious diseases and epidemics,” he said.
As for the future, the general marches on.
“More mentoring and teaching as well as more writing,” he said. “I look forward to all of it!”
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