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Jay Portnoy, MD, FACAAI, Gold Headed Cane Award nominee

June 30, 2021

Jay Portnoy, MD, FACAAI, Gold Headed Cane Award nominee

I am honored to have been nominated for the Gold Headed Cane Award. This nomination comes during a time when, in the face of COVID-19, the health of our nation and the future of our specialty have been at a crossroads. The passing of a Gold Headed Cane from an older to a younger physician as a sign of high regard and affection became a common practice in the seventeenth century. We now use it to indicate high regard to an older allergist for a productive career, yet I think of it as a way of encouraging younger allergists to strive to be worthy of it. I once was such an allergist.

After completing medical training at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of medicine, I trained in pediatrics at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City and then did an allergy/immunology fellowship at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. I attended my first College meeting in 1984 during that fellowship, courtesy of a travel grant. I made many new friends and learned the importance of participating in a professional society because it was educational, supportive and yes, fun to be part of. After that, I was hooked. Following completion of my fellowship, I joined the allergy faculty at Children’s Mercy Hospital and began to study various topics including mold allergy, rush immunotherapy and continuous nebulization for asthma. I also joined several committees of the College and began the process of getting involved.

My first opportunity to participate in a College-sponsored project was the inner city asthma program in collaboration with the Mothers of Asthmatics (now called the Allergy and Asthma Network). Our group organized a weekend program in Kansas City that was observed by the Board of Regents of the College. I think my involvement with this program led to my nomination for the Board of Regents. Drs. Jack Selner, Ira Finegold and Betty Wray were presidents during my term. As a member of the board, I learned the inside operations of the College including how things worked. I also made many friends during that time. That is why I see College meetings as a type of family reunion. I also got to know the College staff including people like Mary Lou Callahan and James Slawny. This underappreciated group of individuals is what keeps the College going.

In addition to the Board of Regents, I also was appointed to the Joint Council of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, where I learned about the political and socioeconomic aspects of the profession guided by the leadership of Dr. Don Aaronson. My first Capitol Hill Day experience when I called on my Congressional Representatives and Senators was scary, but also fulfilling. I made friends with several the staffers. I also was appointed to the Joint Taskforce for Practice Parameters (JTFPP) under the leadership of Dr. Dick Nicklas on which I served for about 16 years and eventually became co-chair. The JTFPP became a second family to me. The discussions, arguments and development of guidelines to help the specialty was clearly the highlight of my career in allergy. The College and Academy are truly fortunate to have such a hardworking, dedicated and brilliant group of individuals who spend countless hours developing practice parameters. During this time, I received the Distinguished Service and Distinguished Fellow Awards for my participation in these groups.

In 2006 I received the phone call from Dr. Bill Berger asking if I would be willing to serve as College president. While nobody can feel entitled to receive such an honor, I was nervous about accepting the offer. Was I up to the task? I did have several objectives in mind including the creation of Conferences Online Allergy (COLA), development of guidelines for environmental control and continuation of an allergy marketing campaign spearheaded by Dr. Richard Gower. Fortunately, I had lots of help making that decision and those years were the highlight of my career.

Life does continue after being College president. I chaired the Future of the Specialty Taskforce and participated in converting our practice parameters to the evidence-based documents that they are now. I also have spent terms on the allergy/immunology RRC and on the American Board of Allergy and Immunology, where I learned that it is much harder to write good questions than it is to answer them.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of membership in the College has been the opportunity to make so many friends. The College enabled me to travel around the world to attend international meetings and in doing so, I learned about the customs in countries from Asia to South America. Though allergy is a medical specialty, it is composed of a very collegial group of individuals who provide benefit to patients on a regular basis. It is that group that I am proud to be a member of.

Though the College has taken me away from my family through the years, they have always been there to support me. I wish to thank my wife, my son and daughter and their significant others for their support. And yes, I do have two cats, but at least nobody in my family has cat allergy. It has been a crazy ride and I am sure that there is more to come. Thank you for nominating me for this honor.

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