Dr. Nancy Mendenhall Receives the 2020 Paulus Award for Clinical Excellence

Dr. Nancy Mendenhall and familyOn Thursday, May 14, UF husband-and-wife Radiation Oncology physicians and professors William M. Mendenhall and Nancy P. Mendenhall (shown right, with daughters Marisa and Elena) were both honored during the College of Medicine (COM) Faculty Awards Celebration. Together, the Mendenhalls bring over 75 years of leadership and service to UF patients, students, and colleagues alike.

Bill Mendenhall, M.D., FACR, FASTRO, was selected to receive the prestigious 2020 UF College of Medicine Faculty Council Lifetime Achievement Award,. Read more about Dr. Mendenhall’s achievements here.

Nancy Mendenhall MD, FASTRO, Associate Chair and Medical Director of the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute, was recognized with the David A. Paulus MD Award for Clinical Excellence, given annually to COM faculty who best demonstrate the ideals of clinical excellence manifested by Dr. David Paulus’ legacy: Making a difference for patient care; an unfailing moral compass; engagement at every level of patient care; and championing teamwork.

Dr. Nancy has more than 30 years of experience and specializes in the areas of breast cancer, Hodgkin disease, lymphomas and pediatric cancers, as well as prostate cancer. Her primary focus for the past 14 years has been the expansion of the use of proton therapy. Prior to assuming her current role as the Medical Director for the University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute (UFHPTI) in 2006, she was an outstanding radiation oncologist and Department Chair for Radiation Oncology at the University of Florida College of Medicine, and the first female Chair in the College’s history.

“Her many achievements include several ‘firsts’ for our UF community,” Dr. Okunieff remarked, “particularly her leadership in the field of proton therapy.”

Seeing the excellent outcomes from use of proton therapy at pioneering institutions, in particular at Loma Linda University, Dr. Nancy recognized the potential for increased use of proton therapy for treatment of a wide array of cancers as well as certain non-malignant diseases, such as macular degeneration. She has worked tirelessly to obtain funding to establish the UFHPTI – the first academic Proton Beam Therapy facility in the Southeastern U.S. – and then to equip and staff the facility.

Thanks to her visionary direction, the UFHPTI has treated more than 8,000 patients, achieving worldwide recognition and paving the way for other proton therapy facilities. Dr. Nancy also supported the UFHPTI in its creation of the first Pediatric Radiation Oncology Fellowship in U.S. Under her guidance, the UFHPTI remains the global leader in pediatric proton therapy, treating some 20 to 30 patients per day from 31 countries, including the U.K., Canada, Finland, Norway, Australia, the Mid-East, and China.

As a longtime breast cancer specialist, she and her team were also able to demonstrate that proton therapy can significantly reduce cardiac exposure, compared to conventional X-ray alternatives, while simultaneously providing better target coverage. They were among the first investigators to realize this and begin clinical trials in the use of proton therapy in breast cancer.

Dr. Nancy is an enthusiastic teacher who is invited to lecture at numerous national and international meetings, delivering more than 100 educational lectures in her career, and has become a sought- after visiting professor, panelist and refresher course lecturer. She is also an endless source of inspiration for young scientists in the field of radiation and has trained more than 87 residents and fostered over 75 resident peer-reviewed publications.

As the Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Particle Therapy, Dr. Nancy, along with Dr. Bill as Operations Editor, helped to found the first peer-reviewed international academic journal for particle therapy.

Building upon UF’s reputation at home and abroad, Dr. Nancy has published more than 250 peer- reviewed publications as author or co-author, as well as over 50 chapters and invited articles that are geared toward the education of residents or practitioners. Since the establishment of the UFHPTI, she and her colleagues have published more than 200 papers dealing with the use of proton beam therapy.

Of particular importance is a 2016 matched-paired analysis by Dr. Mendenhall and her team, which explored the disparities in health-related quality of life and common toxicities between African American and white patients following proton therapy for prostate cancer (Bryant C, Mendenhall NP, Henderson RH, Nichols RC, Mendenhall WM, Morris CG, Williams C, Su Z, Li Z, Hoppe BS. Does Race Influence Health- related Quality of Life and Toxicity Following Proton Therapy for Prostate Cancer? Am J Clin Oncol. 2014 Jul 2. PubMed PMID: 24710124). Their findings had a significant impact on future prostate cancer care approaches, most notably for African American patients: While African Americans usually suffer a greater burden from prostate cancer, they enjoy some of the best outcomes in the world with protons.

“The college, our minority faculty and students, and our associated communities have also benefited from Nancy’s fundraising efforts,” said Dr. Okunieff. “She has assisted in obtaining support for the construction and operation of the UFHPTI and for research initiatives, including from the NIH NCI for training of underrepresented minority faculty and students and from the DOD Prostate Cancer Research Program for training of minority HBCU students.”

The five-year, $11.9 million award that Dr. Nancy and her team received in 2017 from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute is due, in large part, to her leadership. The award is funding a large-scale, pragmatic clinical study to compare outcomes between proton and conventional radiation in cohorts of 3,000 men with prostate cancer.

As Dr. Jonathan Licht, director of the UF Health Cancer Center, stated so succinctly, “Dr. Mendenhall is a visionary clinician and research scientist who’s a driving force in this country in advocating for less-toxic radiation therapy. This is the type of leading-edge, pragmatic clinical study that we at the University of Florida want to be known for.”

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