‘Superstar’ Mindy Fain, MD, Receives Endowed Chair in Medicine

Sunday, December 1, 2013

By Jane Erikson

Mindy Fain, MD, is a widely recognized leader in gerontology, whose many UA College of Medicine titles attest to her achievements in advancing health care for older adults.

She is professor of medicine and chief of the division of geriatrics, general internal medicine and palliative medicine in the UA Department of Medicine.  She is co-director of the UA’s Arizona Center on Aging and director of the UA’s Arizona Geriatric Education Center. She’s the Arizona Health Sciences Center’s executive director of practice innovation.

And now, thanks to a generous gift to the College of Medicine, Fain has been honored with the Anne and Alden Hart Endowed Chair in Medicine.

Alden Hart was a leader in the telephone industry, which first hired him in 1906. In 1940 he became president of Kansas-based United Utilities, which evolved into United Telecommunications and, in the 1980s, became Sprint. He retired in 1958, and the Harts moved to Tucson in 1959. He died here in 1967, the year the College of Medicine opened. Later that year, Anne made a gift of real estate to the UA in memory of her husband, to benefit the College of Medicine. She died here in 1974.

The gift of an endowed chair is a way for Fain’s colleagues, who nominated her for the honor, to say, “Thanks for being a superstar.”

“Mindy Fain truly is one of our superstars,“ said Steve Goldschmid, MD, dean of the UA College of Medicine – Tucson. “Her creative vision, her clinical skills and her commitment to improving geriatric care at all levels are recognized by her colleagues here and across the country.”

Fain says she is humbled – and delighted – by this new honor.

“I still carry the letter around with me, and read it, not infrequently, because it shows such wonderful support for the work I do,” Fain says. “And it’s not what I do, it’s what we do – because I am fortunate to work with so many people who are so outstanding in their work.

“It also means a lot to me because my career has not been traditional,” Fain says, “and still they see it as valuable.”

Fain and her husband, infectious disease specialist Richard Mandel, MD, moved here from Boston in 1984 after Fain accepted a College of Medicine position with the Pima County hospital now known as University of Arizona Medical Center – South Campus.

A few days after they arrived in Tucson, their phone rang. “It was Rubin Bressler, who was the chair of medicine, and he said, ‘I’m sorry, the Board of Supervisors voted, and the partnership is on hold – and you don’t have a job.’

“So I scrambled and got a job with CIGNA HMO for a year until I got another UA position, at the VA hospital. It was in home-based primary care for elders – I made house calls – and I rapidly fell in love with geriatrics.”

In 1986, Fain joined the UA College of Medicine faculty, where her current positions are “pretty seamless,” she says. “The synergies between geriatrics and palliative care and the Center on Aging and the other programs are what make it so exciting.”

As executive director of practice innovation, Fain can work with faculty with the colleges of medicine, nursing, pharmacy and public health, challenging and encouraging them to develop new ways to provide high-quality care at lower costs.

‘It gives me the opportunity to look beyond geriatrics to pediatrics and nursing and other fields that are contributing new ideas,” Fain says. “The answers are in everybody’s head, individually or collectively, so we need to give them information and then dream together.

“Practice innovation really aligns with the work I love.”

Fain also is working with an interdisciplinary team to establish an ACE – acute care of elders – unit at UA Medical Center – South Campus. Patients would be assigned to a care team that would include, for example, a geriatrician, a nurse practitioner, a pharmacist, a social worker, and a physical therapist, all specially trained in geriatric care. She also hopes to create a “virtual” ACE unit at UAMC – University Campus. Patients would be treated in more than one unit of the hospital, but with a similarly integrated care team.

Her team also plans to open a senior emergency room at South Campus in the near future. The senior ER would provide specialized care for older adults who are in need of emergency care.

Fain also is principal investigator on a $1 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, to train Arizona physicians who are not geriatricians to provide the best care for older adults.

The University of Arizona Health Network has matched the grant with $300,000. It follows a $1.9 million Reynolds grant to the Arizona Center on Aging in 2006.

“So those are my hats. That’s what I do. And I like it,” Fain says.

She is especially grateful, she says, to Jack Boyer, MD, who was division chief in geriatrics when she arrived at the UA.

“He is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met, and he’s been a mentor to me for 20 years,” Fain says. “He’s just as wise as you get, and I know I wouldn’t be anywhere near able to do what I do now if it weren’t for Jack and his guidance.”

It may not be possible to read Fain’s story without wondering if she ever finds time to relax.

“I have dinner with my family, two to three times a week,” she answers without hesitation. She and her husband have three grown children who left Tucson, then came back, now with two grandchildren. Her 100-year-old mother lives with Fain and Mandel.

“I love my family and I love the work I do. I hike. I babysit my wonderful grandchildren. I take care of myself. I was up last night writing a chapter until midnight, and I was up at 5:30 this morning and walked three miles with my dear friend. And I’m happy.”