May 19, 2018
SAN ANTONIO — Among his
many accomplishments, Surendra K. Varma, MD, likely prevented countless babies
from intellectual and developmental disabilities. They are complications of
congenital hypothyroidism, a treatable thyroid condition — for which Texas
began to screen newborns in the 1970s.
For this act and
decades of child health care Dr. Varma has provided, while also shaping medical
students into future physicians, the Texas Medical Association (TMA) today honored
the Lubbock physician with its 2018 TMA Distinguished Service Award.
TMA’s House of Delegates policymaking body presented its highest honor to Dr.
Varma at TexMed, the association’s annual conference.
“It is a unique honor,”
he said. “I am privileged to be in such an elite group [of TMA Distinguished
Service Award honorees].”
“Dr. Varma is an
extraordinary physician, educator, academic, and community and public servant,”
said Davor Vugrin, MD, immediate past-president of the Lubbock County Medical
Society, which nominated the physician. “He is a giant role model for all of us
— especially for the younger generations of physicians — and as such he is
well-deserving of this recognition and high honor.”
Dr. Varma is a
board-certified pediatrician and pediatric endocrinologist who has
been active in TMA and the Lubbock County Medical Society for
nearly 40 years.In addition to caring for pediatric patients, he teaches medical
is executive associate dean of graduate medical
education and resident affairs at Texas
Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock
(TTUHSC). He also is the Ted
Hartman Endowed Chair in Medical Education and vice chair of pediatrics
at the TTUHSC School of Medicine. He directed the
school’s Pediatric Residency Program for more than 30 years.
“When I started my
professional career, my goal was to provide the best care to my patients, and
to be a very effective teacher … goals I set without anticipating any awards or
accolades,” said Dr. Varma.
Dr. Varma is a native
of Lucknow, India, where he earned his medical degree
from and completed an internship and fellowship at King
George’s Medical University. As he prepared to travel to America to
further his medical education, his father offered advice.
“ ‘Going abroad, always
remember that you are like an ambassador of your country,’ ” he recalled his
father saying. “ ‘If you do well, people may recognize how good Indians are. If
one is not giving their best and has a poor work ethic, people may say that all
Indians do not have a good work ethic; this might close the door for other
fellow countrymen,’ ” he said.
“Hopefully I have not
closed any door for anyone.”
Given his 43-page
curriculum vitae of professional accomplishments and accolades, surely Dr.
Varma’s father would be proud.
In the United States,
he completed additional fellowships at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s
Hospital, and did his pediatric residency at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Prior to joining Texas
Tech he was a junior faculty member at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
and Harvard Medical School. He then joined the faculty at the TTUHSC School of
Medicine, where he established the medical school’s Pediatric Endocrine-Metabolic
Division in 1974.
of excellence, he built an incredible track record of
accomplishments and achievements,” said Dr. Vugrin.
His focus always
returns to the patient, which he emphasizes to his medical students.
“Patients first, I tell
them. Provide the best possible patient care,” Dr. Varma said. He also
encourages students to immerse themselves in organized medicine — organizations
like TMA — and in advocacy on patients’ behalf.
He did so in 1977 by working
with a local senator to push forth the Texas law to mandate newborn hypothyroid
“That was the most
gratifying thing for me in academic medicine, the most gratifying
accomplishment of my career,” he said of the law’s passage. “Since then we have
been able to start very early treatment and prevent mental retardation in at
least 100 babies per year.”
As broadly as the law
has affected thousands of children and their families, the personal focus on
each individual patient motivates him.
“The most gratifying
thing as a physician is when parents and patients express their appreciation,”
Dr. Varma’s wife of 51 years
Varma, MD. “Whatever I have accomplished is due to
unselfish support of my wife,” he said, describing her as “an
[Watch: Video of Dr. Varma's award presentation and acceptance speech]
this recognition to her, as she has taken a back seat to my career.”
They have two children,
Varma Dixon, MD, of Reno, Nev., and Rishi
Varma, JD, of Houston and Palo Alto,
Calif. Dr. Varma’s sisters are Asha Lal of Fairbanks, Ala., and
Srivastava of Dallas; his brother is Upendra
Varma of Lucknow, India; and his
brother-in-law is Harish Sahai of New Delhi,
Dr. Varma has
been a TMA leader in numerous capacities, including as
the TMA Council on Medical Education, the Council on
Scientific Affairs, the Council on Health
Promotion, the Subcommittee on Child and Adolescent Health, the
Committee on Access to Care, the Committee
on Academic Physicians, and the editorial board of Texas Medicine magazine.
He also chaired the TMA Section on Pediatrics and served as a delegate to TMA’s
House of Delegates.
Dr. Varma was president
of the Lubbock County Medical Society; Texas Pediatric
Society; and American Diabetes Association, Texas affiliate.
served on the
Texas Medical Board since 2012.
Nationally, Dr. Varma was a member
of the governing council of the American Medical Association Section
on Medical Schools, and was Academic Physicians Section
liaison to the AMA Council on Medical Education. He has served as vice chair of the Residency Review
Committee on Pediatrics. He also has served as Endocrine Section chair of the American
Academy of Pediatrics, and on the board of TMF Health Quality Institute, in
addition to participating in numerous medical specialty societies.
Dr. Varma’s awards and
honors include the Texas Pediatric Society’s Charles W.
Lifetime Achievement Award — the
highest honor — and the TMA Platinum
Award for Excellence in Academic Medicine in 2014,
as well as TMA’s 1999 C. Frank Webber, MD, Award for his commitment to
mentoring medical students. He also received the TTUHSC School of Medicine President’s
Outstanding Professor Award, and Texas Tech gave him the Grover E. Murray
Professorship, the highest award the university can bestow on a faculty member.
Dr. Varma also received the Hippocratic Award from Lubbock County Medical
Society and several other high honors including an honorary doctorate of science
from King George’s Medical University and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the
Global Association of Physicians of Indian Origin.
has been published in more than 150 medical publications
and abstracts, and he has delivered close to 200
medical presentations around the world.
In addition to those achievements and honors, he
served America’s military as well. “To express my gratitude to this great
country, I joined the U.S. Army Reserve as lieutenant colonel,” he said. “I was
activated in first Gulf War and was proud to serve our adopted country.”
TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation,
representing more than 51,000 physician and medical student members. It is
located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the
state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.
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Contact: Brent Annear (512) 370-1381;
cell: (512) 656-7320; email: brent.annear[at]texmed[dot]org
Cooper (512) 370-1382; cell: (512) 650-5336; email: marcus.cooper[at]texmed[dot]org
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