J. Stephen Kizer, M.D. and the Distinguished Medical Scholars Program

By: Read Pukkila-Worley


Sitting with his hands folded at the head of a conference table, Dr. Steve Kizer listens to a student summarize his research on this week’s topic in Distinguished Medical Scholars (DMS) seminar series: “Phenotypes and Genetics- should we discard racial identifiers?.” As always, Dr. Kizer begins the discussion by challenging the student to draw his own conclusion from his research. His purpose is to teach the critical analysis of clinical research methods so the scholars will be able to analyze controversial topics in medicine. With the Emeritus Departmental Chair of Surgery Dr. Colin Thomas, the former Division Chief of Nephrology Dr. Bill Blythe and later the Emeritus Departmental Chair of Internal Medicine Dr. Fred Sparling, Dr. Kizer has been educating students in the DMS program for nearly 15 years aiming “to provide an academic challenge and training in independent analytical thought to promising medical students.” The DMS program provides funding for four medical students annually to conduct a year of independent research and participate in biweekly seminars. The topics of the seminars are broad and cover clinical decision analysis, clinical pharmacology, ethics, epidemiology, public health, statistics and governmental policies. Recent topics have included “Activated Protein C for sepsis”, “Ethical dilemmas surrounding procurement, “Endovascular stents for infrarenal aneurysms, as effective as surgery?” and “Gulf war syndrome, shell shocked and agent orange disease: what are these entities?” Each discussion requires the scholars to scour the relevant literature in order to develop an educated and coherent argument about some aspect of the week’s topic. The questions are intentionally designed to foster this kind of thinking and often, scholars find themselves drawing educated conclusions that fly in the face of an established clinical practice. The artful probing of Dr. Kizer pushes the scholars in every seminar to examine clinical reasoning and think independently. Furthermore, a faculty expert on the week’s topic is asked to join the discussion to offer their own insight. The program has been extremely successful in molding the careers of future physicians in nearly every specialty. Michael Houston, a third year General Surgery resident at UNC Hospitals said “The program as a whole fostered independent, critical thinking… and did more to prepare me for a life of learning in medicine than any other single year of my training.”

Dr. Kizer began the DMS program because of his genuine love for teaching. As director of the Internal Medicine third year clerkship from 1993-2002 and head of the DMS program, he has molded several generations of physicians. “Teaching is truly enjoyable for me because students and house staff provide a fresh perspective on medicine and this is often very illuminating,” he says. Dr. Kizer graduated from Duke University School of Medicine in 1970 and was a resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1970-1972. As a Professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina, he maintains a vibrant clinical practice in both the ambulatory and in-patient setting, but his love for teaching medicine based upon critical thinking has become a focal point of his career. The teachings of Dr. Kizer have greatly benefited many individuals and we, as students, are fortunate to have such a dedicated teacher working with us.