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VUMC mourns loss of dedicated clinician, teacher Fowler

Feb. 21, 2022, 1:28 PM


by Kathy Whitney

Michael Fowler, MD

Michael Fowler, MD, associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism, a celebrated Master Clinical Teacher, and co-medical director of the Shade Tree Clinic, died Feb. 20 of cancer. He was 49.

“The passing of our colleague Dr. Fowler is a tragic loss. Mike was truly special and had a huge impact on the School of Medicine for someone so young,” said Kimryn Rathmell, MD, PhD, Hugh Jackson Morgan Professor and chair of the Department of Medicine.

Dr. Fowler earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish from East Tennessee State University (ETSU) and his MD from ETSU’s Quillen College of Medicine, where he also completed his internship and residency training in internal medicine. He served as chief resident in medicine at James H. Quillen VA Medical Center before coming to Vanderbilt in 2000. He completed his fellowship in endocrinology at Vanderbilt and then joined the faculty.

“Dr. Fowler touched so many people with his kindness, humor, intellect, and teaching and medical skills. He mentored and impacted hundreds of Vanderbilt medical students,” said Alvin Powers, MD, Joe C. Davis Professor of Biomedical Science, director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research Center and chief of the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism in the Department of Medicine. “Mike was also an outstanding physician who was greatly beloved by his patients and his colleagues. His tremendous legacy will continue through the many he influenced.”

In 2003, Dr. Fowler was appointed assistant professor of Medicine, rising to associate professor in 2015. He served in the Office of Teaching and Learning in Medicine, and as longtime physical diagnosis course director — a class taken by all first-year medical students — served as diabetes intersession course co-director, and as director of the Master Clinical Teacher program.

“Dr. Fowler was a true treasure to the students, the School of Medicine, and the Medical Center, not only because of his integrity and talent as a clinician but also because of the humor and humanity that he demonstrated in all his interactions,” said Donald Brady, MD, senior associate dean of Health Sciences Education. “To say he was a role model is a vast understatement. There are thousands upon thousands of patients whose lives have been positively impacted because of the knowledge and skills that Dr. Fowler imparted to many hundreds of medical students at Vanderbilt.”

Dr. Fowler received the Shovel Award for Teaching in 2014, given by the VUSM graduating class to a faculty member they feel has had a positive and meaningful influence on their lives and education. He received the Thomas E. Brittingham Clinical Teaching Award in 2016. He received the John L. Tarpley Award for Commitment to Care of Underserved Communities for his work as co-medical director of the Shade Tree Clinic in 2018, and he was the honoree at the Shade Tree Clinic Benefit Dinner and Auction earlier this month.

“Mike came from a family committed to teaching. Both of his parents and his brother were teachers,” said Robert Miller, MD, Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Medicine and co-medical director of The Shade Tree Clinic. “His greatest joy was working with students while caring for the underserved at Shade Tree and during student mission trips to Nicaragua. He inspired generations of students to enjoy medical education and fellow Vanderbilt faculty to be better educators.”

Dr. Fowler is survived by his wife, Gisella Carranza Leon, MD, associate professor of Medicine, and children Caroline, Michelle and William.

The service for Dr. Fowler will be on Wednesday, Feb. 23, at Cathedral of the Incarnation, 2015 West End Ave. Visitation will be held 8-10 a.m., followed by Mass at 10 a.m. A livestream will be available at this link: The burial will occur immediately following the funeral at Calvary Cemetery, 1001 Lebanon Pike.

In lieu of flowers, Dr. Fowler’s family requests memorial donations be sent to the Shade Tree Clinic!/donation/checkout or Cathedral of the Incarnation

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