The retiring president and CEO of a major national association for academic medical centers, as well as two outstanding health care providers in Nebraska, will be honored at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s May 4 commencement ceremony for their significant contributions to medicine. The ceremony will be held at the Baxter Arena in Omaha.

Darrell Kirch, M.D., president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which represents the nation's medical schools, teaching hospitals, and academic societies, will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Science Degree for high distinction in the advancement of science and service in the health sciences fields.

Dr. Kirch has headed the AAMC since 2006 and is stepping down from his post at the end of June.

Known as a distinguished physician, educator, and medical scientist, Dr. Kirch speaks and publishes widely on the need for transformation in the nation’s health care system and how academic medicine can lead change across medical education, biomedical research, and patient care. He shares with UNMC a passion for two of the medical center’s recent points of emphasis -- the wellbeing of the nation’s health professions workforce and interprofessional education.

He previously served as the dean and academic health system leader of the Medical College of Georgia and Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Dr. Kirch, a psychiatrist and clinical neuroscientist, earned his bachelor’s and medical degrees at the University of Colorado.

James Smith, M.D., an emergency medicine physician for Great Plains Health in North Platte, and Catherine Jones-Hazledine, Ph.D., a psychologist and owner of Western Nebraska Behavioral Health in Rushville, Neb., will receive the J.G. Elliott Award.

The award is given for outstanding contributions to medicine and health programs for the state of Nebraska and UNMC. It is given in memory of Jack Elliott, a former Scottsbluff resident, who served on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents for 20 years, until his death in 1974.

Dr. Smith has been emergency services medical director at Great Plains Health since 2006 and serves on the Great Plains Health board of directors. He is an alumnus of Northwest Missouri State University and the UNMC College of Medicine.

He has long been a driving force in Nebraska and beyond in the field of emergency medicine. He has served as medical director for emergency services in six Nebraska communities. He has been appointed to the Nebraska Board of Emergency Medical Services, and currently serves as chair.

Dr. Smith is former medical manager for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Nebraska Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue team. He was deployed to New York City following the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers on 9/11. Dr. Smith is a founding member of the Department of Homeland Security.

Among numerous honors, Dr. Smith was named Nebraska Physician of the Year by the Nebraska Academy of Physician Assistants and Physician Teacher of the Year by the UNMC Department of Family Practice.

Dr. Jones-Hazledine, will be honored for her contribution to the state’s rural mental health needs.

“Dr. Cate,” as her client families know her, is a leader in providing behavioral health services in Nebraska’s rural and underserved areas. As owner of Western Nebraska Behavioral Health, she and her staff currently provide care in eight primary care-based clinics located in Alliance, Bridgeport, Chadron, Crawford, Gordon, Rushville, Scottsbluff and Valentine, Neb.

She works to address shortages with her active involvement in the training of students for rural practice. She works with the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN) to improve the recruitment and retention of behavioral providers in rural settings. She has worked with BHECN to establish programs introducing high school students to behavioral health careers and to provide rural providers with networking and support.

In 2018, Dr. Jones-Hazledine worked with Omar Rahman, M.D., professor and director of genetic medicine at UNMC’s Munroe-Meyer Institute, to establish a much-needed comprehensive genetics telehealth clinic in Gordon, Neb.

She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Chicago and completed her Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.