Drs. Gaetan Sgro and Elizabeth Hakas are VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System’s 2021 Outstanding Physicians of the Year.
The two were selected from a field of 12 VA Pittsburgh physicians who received a monthly Chief of Staff Clinical Excellence Award during fiscal year 2020. Voting was open to all VA Pittsburgh staff physicians. The winners received plaques prior to the April medical staff quarterly meeting.
Sgro nominated Hakas for the Chief of Staff award in February. Hakas is an internist, dealing with prevention, diagnoses, and treatment of internal diseases. She works mainly in addiction medicine in the Center for Treatment of Addictive Disorders. She also enjoys working in the emergency department, the hospitalist service, and as a member of the medical ethics team.
“The patients Dr. Hakas cares for are some of the most vulnerable and stigmatized patients who walk through the doors at VA Pittsburgh,” said Sgro. “Elizabeth sets the standard for how to approach every patient with the utmost respect and empathy. Whenever I’m struggling to help a patient with a substance use disorder, I text Elizabeth and she takes time out of her busy schedule to meet them wherever they are.”
He also noted her support of fellow staff.
“She’s the person who always remembers your birthday and forces you to take time for yourself when you’re struggling,” he said. “It’s no exaggeration to say that Dr. Hakas has made the whole VA Pittsburgh community a more caring, fun and healthier place.”
Dr. Heather McQuillan nominated Sgro for the Chief of Staff award in January. Sgro, an academic hospitalist, helps train residents and medical students in his position as director of Inpatient Medicine Education.
“In my personal experience working with Gaetan, he has helped me better serve my Veteran population during their transition of care between hospital and home,” said McQuillan. “He has often provided assistance even when he was not the provider caring for the Veteran on the inpatient side. He has been a wonderful colleague and asset to VA Pittsburgh.”
Sgro pioneered VA’s My Life, My Story program at VA Pittsburgh. The program empowered clinical volunteers to record the personal life stories of almost 100 Veteran patients and counting in the medical record.
“Staff not only feel more confident in caring for Veterans after reading these stories, but they also feel more connected to and fulfilled by the work of service,” Sgro said.
For Hakas, the Outstanding Physician award has special meaning after what she described as a difficult year with the pandemic and social and political unrest. Hakas said she draws strength from the words of hospice physician and author BJ Miller, who writes “the most potent form of medicine is to come from a place of love and kindness.”
Her goal now, she said, is “to discover how to be kind and how to walk gently and thoughtfully through life. I tell myself I must stay open-minded, and open-hearted, and keep learning until the day I die. I greatly appreciate the VA as a place where I can feel comfortable being myself and where all Veterans, from every walk of life, can get the care they deserve.”
Both doctors expressed deep appreciation for being selected alongside one another.
“It was a great pleasure to be selected for this honor with Dr. Sgro,” said Hakas, “I know he meets the highest standards in patient care, teaching and overall amazingness.”
Sgro said he is humbled to have been selected by his peers for the award, especially considering the many other VA health care professionals who risk their lives daily during the pandemic to care for Veterans.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Elizabeth and I are sharing this award,” said Sgro. “We’re both here for the people and their stories, in all their diverse, eccentric, and lovely forms.”