Whitson, D’Alessio Selected Co-Recipients of 2023 Neil L. Spector Art of Medicine Award

Professors Heather Whitson, MD, MHS, director of the Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, and Dave D’Alessio, MD, chief of the division of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Nutrition, have been selected as co-recipients of the 2023 Neil L. Spector Art of Medicine Award.

Whitson is a professor in the division of Geriatrics and one of the top academic geriatricians nationwide. She is a highly sought-after speaker, research collaborator, and national leader in professional geriatrics organizations.

“Despite her busy schedule and accomplishments, Dr. Whitson is one of the most passionate mentors and advocates for early career aging researchers that I know. We are fortunate that she decided to make Duke her academic home,” said Cathleen Colón-Emeric, MD, MHS, chief of the division of Geriatrics, who nominated Whitson.

Whitson received her undergraduate degree at Stanford University and her medical school training at Cornell University School Medical College. She was an outstanding Duke Internal Medicine house officer and Chief Medical Resident.

Dr. Whitson is an internationally recognized expert on multi-morbidity and disability in older adults. Her focus is on the interface between age-related changes in the brain (cognitive impairment) and eye (visual impairment) as co-morbidities. She recently became a Principle Investigator on the Duke-UNC Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, and her research has led to national efforts to re-evaluate Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services coverage policies that exclude services and equipment related to vision and hearing health for older adults.

Most notably, Dr. Whitson received the prestigious Thomas and Catherine Yoshikawa Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement for Clinical Investigation from the American Geriatrics Society in 2018, a tremendous achievement which increased Duke Geriatrics’ profile nationally.

Whitson is a sought-after teacher and mentor. She is the PI of a R38 training grant for residents to gain mentored experience in dementia research, and a U13 grant from NIA in which she has led a series of “bench-to-bedside” educational conferences co-hosted by the NIA and the American Geriatrics Society (AGS); conferences that include half-day “rising star” sessions to foster the careers of young investigators across the country.

Nationally, she is co-lead of the NIH-sponsored Research Centers Collaborative Network faculty development group, leading online and in-person professional development and cross-institution mentoring programs nationwide.


Dave D’Alessio, MD, is the James B. Wyngaarden Distinguished Professor of Medicine, an internationally recognized researcher, and a highly decorated teacher and research mentor.

“When I think of Dr. D’Alessio,” said nominator Matt Crowley, MD, Endocrinology Fellowship Program Director, “I think of my favorite quotation, which comes from Teddy Roosevelt – ‘No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care’. These words capture what makes Dr. D’Alessio exceptional – as accomplished as he is, it is his fundamental decency and concern for others that separate him from other great physicians.”

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin Medical School, D’Alessio did his residency at Temple University School of Medicine followed by a research fellowship in metabolism, endocrinology and nutrition at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He has held faculty positions at the University of Washington and the University of Cincinnati before joining Duke as Chief of the division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Nutrition in November 2013.

Dr. D'Alessio has consultative practices in the lipid and the endocrinology clinics at Duke Hospital and the Durham VA Medical Center. His primary research interest is in the regulation of glucose tolerance and abnormalities that lead to type 2 diabetes. Throughout his career as a diabetes and endocrine researcher, D’Alessio has made major contributions to understanding the biology of incretins and the role these peptides play in the body weight control.

 D’Alessio has made both basic and clinical contributions to his field, contributing in significant ways to today’s widespread use of incretins and their analogs for Type 2 diabetes therapy. He has held leadership roles on several committees of national organizations, including the American Diabetes Association. 

“When I look around our division, I can only marvel at the evolution that has occurred since 2014,” Crowley adds. “Dr. D’Alessio has a clear strategic vision for our group, which relies on maximizing the talents and potential of each team member, from staff, to trainees, to faculty. The relationships he has built in service of this vision have translated into a world-class organization, progress that never would have occurred without his deep commitment to each of us. Dr. Spector’s integrity, deep compassion, altruism, respect for others, and sense of empathy were apparent to all, and Dr. D’Alessio exemplifies these same qualities in every way.”

The Spector Award was established after the passing of Dr. Neil Spector in 2020 to recognize exemplary humanism and mentorship practices in clinical and translational research. Recipients of the award demonstrate qualities well represented by Dr. Spector in his interactions with his patients, colleagues, and trainees:  integrity, compassion, altruism, respect, and empathy. 

Whitson and D’Alessio will receive their awards at Medicine Grand Rounds on Friday, May 26 at 8 a.m.