October 21, 2005

Chescheir to hold Burnett Chair in Ob/Gyn

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Lonnie Burnett, M.D.

Chescheir to hold Burnett Chair in Ob/Gyn

Nancy Chescheir, M.D.

Nancy Chescheir, M.D.

A newly endowed chair in Vanderbilt's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology is serving as an additional funding source for programs, research efforts and salary support that wasn't available when Lonnie S. Burnett, M.D., came to Nashville in 1976.

The Betty and Lonnie S. Burnett Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology will be held by Nancy Chescheir, M.D., who heads Vanderbilt's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and is recognized as one of the country's most respected leaders in maternal-fetal medicine.

School of Medicine Dean Steven Gabbe, M.D., announced the chair honoring Burnett and his wife, Betty, during the 17th reunion of the Lonnie S. Burnett Vanderbilt Ob-Gyn Society last weekend. Members of the Society contributed an important part of funding for the chair, he said.

“One of the greatest honors that a faculty member can have is to have an endowed chair named for them because the chair becomes a lasting part of the school's culture,” Gabbe said.

“When people think of Lonnie they always think of Betty … so Betty and Lonnie, together, have been role models for our students, our faculty and the practitioners in our community. So much of what Lonnie has achieved could only have been accomplished with Betty's support.”

Burnett, the Frances and John C. Burch Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, was named to lead Vanderbilt's Ob-Gyn department in 1976 and stayed in that position for 19 years.

He is credited with both expanding his department and breaking through barriers that existed between Vanderbilt and the Nashville community.

“Vanderbilt was kind of isolated from the town before Lonnie got here. Very few people came over to Vanderbilt who worked out in town and there was just not a good relationship,” said Angus Crook, M.D., a Nashville doctor who met Burnett while interning at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit in 1953-54.

“It's called the 'town and gown relationship,' with the town being the private practitioners and the gown being the academic people. Lonnie, amazingly enough, tied the 'town' and 'gown' together. He really reached out to the town and tried to make everybody into a common group.”

Burnett contributed to his department not only as chair but also as a role model for students and faculty. In addition to his work in the field, he has served as a member of the admissions committee and as a person active in raising scholarship funds. Next year he will assume the presidency of the Canby Robinson Society.

“There are so many nice things that have happened to me, it's hard to rank, but it ranks high,” Burnett said of the endowment. “It's like everything in the world — no matter how good you are you can always be better, and I think Nancy has the capacity to see where improvements can occur.”

Chescheir, a perinatologist, is already the first woman to chair a clinical department in the School of Medicine's 130-year history.

She came to Vanderbilt from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in February, succeeding Stephen Entman, M.D., who stepped down after 10 years as chair of the department.

“It is very important for a department to have a sense of history and a sense of where you came from so, in that regard, being able to honor someone like Dr. Burnett with an endowed chair, it just lets you get your roots and stabilize yourself in some ways,” Chescheir said.

“Dr. Burnett has great attention to detail, has great concerns about people, and aspires to be the best. He still comes to work every day and is just a really remarkable scientist and doctor.”