The Wayne State University School of Medicine Medical Alumni Association has announced the 2024 winners of the Recent Alumni Award, the Lawrence M. Weiner Award and the Distinguished Alumni Award, who will be recognized during the annual Medical Alumni Reunion Weekend, May 17-19, in Detroit.
The Recent Alumni Award, established in 2003, is presented to those who received a medical degree from the WSU School of Medicine within the last 15 years who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement, community contributions or service to the School of Medicine.
This year, a married couple, Alixandra Purakal, M.D., and John Purakal, M.D., have been selected to receive the Recent Alumni Award.
At every level of her training and career, Alixandra Purakal, M.D., assistant consulting professor in the Department of Radiology and chief of the Community Division in the Department of Radiology at Duke University, has maintained a record of leadership and integrity.
While at the WSU School of Medicine, she served in a number of roles in the Student Senate and other student organizations, including as Class of 2013 vice president, Communications Committee chair, Social Committee chair, and later became the first woman to hold the office of Student Senate president for two consecutive years.
Dr. Purakal received a number of academic and service awards, including the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, the Arnold P. Gold Humanism in Medicine Award, the Dean’s Distinguished Service Award, the Dean’s Distinguished Leadership Award, the Class of 2013 Academic Achievement Award and the Robert J. Sokol Alumni Association Prize.
She completed her Diagnostic Radiology residency at the University of Chicago. During residency, she was awarded the Neuroradiology Exemplary Junior Resident Award, and the John J. Fennessy Memorial Award for Research and Performance in Thoracic Imaging. She served as chief resident before starting her Breast Imaging fellowship at the University of Chicago.
Participating in the Association of University Radiologists Leadership Development Course and the American Medical Association House of Delegates further strengthened Dr. Purakal’s resolve to pursue leadership opportunities. During her first years at Duke, she served as her division’s director of Recruitment. A champion for diversity and inclusion, she received the University of Chicago Radiology Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award. She serves on the Duke Women in Radiology Executive Council as vice president of Communication and Service.
In 2022, Dr. Purakal was appointed division chief for the Community Division in the Department of Radiology at Duke. As the youngest and first female chief of the division, she leads the group of 17 radiologists and staff, scheduling, recruitment, and aspects of the division’s quality and safety, and peer-learning initiatives. In this role, she received a grant from the North Carolina Chapter of the American College of Radiology for further career development. She was recently selected to participate in the prestigious Academic Leadership, Innovation and Collaborative Engagement program at Duke.
She also serves as a member of the Duke Raleigh Hospital Medical Executive Committee, deliberating hospital policies and procedures, as well as helping ensure the medical staff functions efficiently. She also is medical director of Imaging Services at Duke Raleigh Hospital and Duke Ambulatory Services.
John Purakal, M.D., Class of 2014, is an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Duke University School of Medicine. He holds appointments with the Duke-Margolis Center on Health Policy and the Samuel Dubois Cook Center for Social Equity.
Dr. Purakal has been an invited speaker locally, nationally and internationally on topics related to health equity, racial disparities in care, and cardiovascular disease. His medical career started as a student at the WSU School of Medicine, where he performed emergency medicine cardiovascular research under Professor of Emergency Medicine Phillip Levy, M.D., M.P.H. He went on to create a community initiative to provide multidisciplinary health education to at-risk populations around the city of Detroit. This work reached hundreds of Detroit residents and led to his receiving the Arthur Johnson Leadership Award, the Ralph Wadley, M.D., Scholarship and the Crain's Detroit Business Twenty in their 20s Award.
He completed his Emergency Medicine residency at the University of Illinois - Chicago, serving as chief resident his final year. He then began his academic career at the University of Chicago as an assistant professor in the Section of Emergency Medicine.
Since joining the Duke University School of Medicine in 2019, Dr. Purakal has worked to address unmet social needs in the emergency department patient population through development of a social needs screening program, utilizing student volunteers and cross-sectoral collaborations with platforms such as NCCare360. To date, this program has screened more than 1,000 patients, providing essential resources and referrals to community-based organizations to address unmet social needs. Additionally, he co-leads a Duke University Hospital violence recovery program for victims of community violence.
His research focuses on exploring health and racial disparities in care, and their intersection with unmet social needs. Dr. Purakal created the Health Equity Curriculum for the Duke Emergency Medicine Residency Program. His educational roles include serving as the founding Emergency Medicine Clerkship director for a new 16-week longitudinal curriculum for second-year medical students. He co-chairs his department’s Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and helped lead a significant faculty recruitment expansion during the last two years. With a focus on enhancing diversity, the group hired 16 new faculty members, 38% of which identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Color, 25% from underrepresented in medicine populations and 63% identifying as female.
Dr. Purakal serves as a faculty mentor to several student organizations that address health inequities in the Durham community. He has received numerous awards for teaching, mentorship and leadership, and was the recipient of the 2022 American College of Emergency Physicians National Junior Faculty Teaching Award. For his work to reduce health disparities, he received the 2023 Duke University Presidential Award, Duke’s highest individual honor, the 2023 Triangle Business Journal 40 in their 40s Leadership Award, and was invited to the White House last year to discuss his work in health equity.
Jennifer Mendez, Ph.D., associate professor, emeritus, of Internal Medicine – Geriatrics, will receive the Lawrence M. Weiner Award.
Established in 1979, the award honors the outstanding contributions made to the Wayne State University School of Medicine by individuals who are not M.D. alumni of the school. Nominees may have earned a doctoral degree or completed their residency or fellowship training at Wayne State University, or may be a faculty member who completed their undergraduate medical education at an institution other than WSU. The award is based on exceptional performance in teaching, research and/or administrative duties. The person receiving this award has met the high standards established by Dr. Lawrence Weiner's outstanding record of service to the School of Medicine.
Dr. Mendez has led the award-winning Service Learning program and co-directed the Community Engagement Elective and the Scholarly Concentration on Policy, Advocacy and Community Health for the School of Medicine.
She has extensive experience coordinating academic coursework and has worked more than 10 years to coordinate the Interprofessional Team Visit Program, a collaboration between WSU's medicine, pharmacy, nursing, social work, physical therapy, occupational therapy and physician assistant programs that serves older adults in the Detroit area and introduces the students to the demands of assessing older adult health and social needs in a home environment. Developed in 2010 by Dr. Mendez, the program in 2013 won the Michigan Health Council’s Building Michigan’s Health Care Workforce Award for Interprofessional Teamwork Initiative.
Dr. Mendez has presented her research around the world, including at the Association of American Medical Colleges annual meeting. She is one of the authors of the Toronto Declaration on Bridging Aging and Disabilities.
Her peers from the National Association for Gerontology in Higher Education awarded Dr. Mendez the Hiram J. Friedsam Mentor of the Year Award in 2015. Marquette University selected her in 2023 as one of 10 alumni to represent 100 years of Graduate Education. She received the College of Education 2017 Alumni of the Year Award from Marquette University, and was the 2019 recipient of the Women in Medicine and Science Award, as well as the Distinguished Faculty Award in Internal Medicine at WSU.
Dr. Mendez said that growing up in Pakistan, among different ethnic groups, shaped her ability to connect with people from many backgrounds. She received her doctoral degree from the College of Education at Marquette University in 1986, a master’s degree in Educational Administration in 1981 from Philippine Christian College, Manila, the Philippines, and two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Karachi.
Dr. Mendez has published numerous articles and presented both locally and internationally. She is most proud of the presentations that included students she has mentored. Her educational programs have been funded by the Bureau of Health Professionals, the Department of Health and Human Services, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the DMC Foundation.
The Wayne State University Medical Alumni Association initiated the Distinguished Alumni Award to be presented annually to an individual who received a medical degree from the WSU School of Medicine who has made outstanding contributions to humanitarian causes, whose contributions to the health field in the broader sense is outstanding and for service to the school. This year’s award will be presented to Alkis Zingas, M.D., FACR, of the Class of 1970.
Dr. Zingas, a clinical professor of Radiology for the School of Medicine, is chief of Radiology at Harper Hospital and Detroit Receiving Hospital of the Detroit Medical Center.
After graduating from the American Academy in Cyprus at the top of his class, he attended Wayne State University and received a bachelor’s degree with distinction in Chemistry. He subsequently attended the WSU School of Medicine and then completed residency and a fellowship in Diagnostic and Therapeutic Radiology at Harper Hospital.
After completing post-graduate training, Dr. Zingas started his clinical and academic career at Harper Hospital with a faculty appointment in the WSU Department of Radiology, where he introduced innovative imaging technologies, including Computed Tomography and Diagnostic Ultrasonography, and founded the corresponding clinical services. His main clinical interest and expertise is Oncological Body Imaging. He has provided services to all DMC hospitals and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center. His clinical work has been recognized by his peers who have voted for him repeatedly as “Top Doctor in America” and “Best Doctor in Detroit.”
Throughout his career, Dr. Zingas has devoted himself to teaching medical students, residents and fellows, many of whom have distinguished themselves as clinicians and leaders in the field of Radiology. In recognition of his teaching, he received the first Teacher of the Year Award from radiology residents.
Dr. Zingas has been a long-time member and leader of national and regional organizations, including the American College of Radiology and the Michigan Radiological Society. He has served as councilor from the State of Michigan to the American College of Radiology, and as president and member of the Board of Trustees of the Michigan Radiological Society. For these services, he was recognized with fellowship in the American College of Radiology and the Gold Medal Service Award from the Michigan Radiological Society.
Dr. Zingas said he has been a strong advocate of the WSU School of Medicine because of the excellent medical education it provides and its service mission, which includes assisting underserved populations. He is a member of the Anthony Wayne Society at the Sponsor level and is a class ambassador. He has served as a president and member of the Board of Governors of the Wayne State University Medical Alumni Association.
Medical Alumni Reunion Weekend begins May 17 with a casual reception at the Corner Ballpark, followed the next two days by an array of events, including Continuing Medical Education sessions, tours of the School of Medicine, class receptions, dinner, the awards ceremony, a bus tour of Detroit and the Detroit Medical Orchestra’s 15th anniversary concert.
For more information about the event, visit https://alumni.med.wayne.edu/mard.