2023 Alumni Award Recipients

Megan M. Bickford, MS, ’17 | College of Graduate Studies

Megan M. Bickford, MS, ’17 | College of Graduate StudiesMegan M. Bickford, MS, is clinical research operations manager at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. She joined Winship from the Medical University of South Carolina, where she served as program manager for the Pediatric Research Group.

Bickford has extensive experience in clinical research and laboratory sciences. During her tenure at MUSC, she was involved in grant preparations, pre/post-award clinical trials and basic science research. Before joining the pediatric department at MUSC, she supported the Gastroenterology/Hepatology and Infectious Disease departments, assisting investigators with grant submissions, compiling data and presenting posters at scientific conventions.

Colleague Mona Haj nominated Bickford for an Emerging Leader Award. In her nomination, she shared, “Throughout her time at MUSC and now at Emory, Megan has consistently demonstrated exceptional qualities that set her apart as a true emerging leader in her field.”

Haj continued, “In addition to her technical skills, Megan … is an exceptional team player and has shown the ability to collaborate effectively with diverse groups of professionals, fostering an environment of mutual respect and support. Megan's leadership style is characterized by her ability to inspire and motivate others, making her a natural mentor to her colleagues and a role model to aspiring professionals. Beyond her technical and leadership skills, Megan's self-awareness stands out as a distinguishing trait. She has a keen understanding of her strengths and areas for growth.”

Joanne M. Conroy, M.D., ’83 | College of Medicine

Joanne M. Conroy, M.D., ’83 | College of MedicineJoanne M. Conroy, M.D., has led Dartmouth Health as chief executive officer and president since 2017, overseeing the management of New Hampshire’s only academic health system and largest private employer in a complex and rapidly evolving health care landscape.

Under Conroy’s leadership, the system’s flagship hospital, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, is regularly ranked as the No. 1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report.

Conroy has long been a vocal advocate for increasing the role of women in leadership, and is often singled out as a role model for other women who aspire to become leaders and agents for positive change in health care. Conroy was named to the American Hospital Association’s Board of Trustees in 2019, and in 2022 was named chair-elect designate, to serve as chair of the AHA board in 2024. In December 2022, Conroy was ranked No. 18 on Modern Healthcare magazine’s list of “100 Most Influential People in Healthcare.”

Conroy graduated from Dartmouth in 1979 and from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine in 1983.

She was nominated for a Distinguished Alumni Award by colleague and former student, Mark Ashton Lyles, M.D. Lyles says Conroy’s kindness is what distinguishes her amongst her colleagues.

In part, he writes, “I wish every graduate of MUSC would possess the skill set, the intellect, the presentation skills, and the professional gravitas that Joanne has. But if I had to pick one attribute that I wish every graduate of MUSC would have, and would demonstrate at all times, it would be what that nurse told me about Joanne over 30 years ago, that I have seen her demonstrate ever since: kindness.”

James L. Decker, DHA, ’12 | College of Health Professions

James L. Decker, DHA, ’12 | College of Health ProfessionsJames L. “Jim” Decker, DHA, has had an impressive and distinguished 47-year career as a health care executive in Tennessee. He was appointed chief executive officer of MEDIC Regional Blood Center in Knoxville, Tennessee in October 2006 and recently retired after serving in that position for 16-and-a-half years.

He has held adjunct faculty and teaching appointments at The University of Alabama in Birmingham, Austin Peay State University, Carson-Newman College, South College, Tusculum College, and the University of Tennessee.

A native of Zachary, Louisiana, Decker holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in microbiology from Louisiana State University, a Master of Science in Hospital and Health Administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a Master of Business Administration from the University of Tennessee and a Doctor of Health Administration from the Medical University of South Carolina.

Decker was nominated for a Distinguished Alumni Award by colleague and fellow alumni, James D. Whitlock, DHA. Whitlock describes Decker as a “servant leader.”

In part, he writes, “He does not often seek personal recognition but prefers to let those around him be recognized for their achievements. His quiet demeanor and reserved personality sometimes place him in the shadows of others, yet his knowledge and commitment to the health care industry, the countless contributions he has made to several different communities, and the humility he displays on a daily basis speak volumes as to why he should be honored.”

Anthony DeClue, Pharm. D., ’16 | College of Pharmacy

Anthony DeClue, Pharm. D., ’16 | College of PharmacyAnthony DeClue earned his Doctor of Pharmacy degree in 2016 from the Medical University of South Carolina. He returned to MUSC as a faculty member in 2017. Currently, he is an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Outcomes Sciences.

In addition to teaching, DeClue serves as director of Clinical Services at MUSC Family Medicine Pharmacy, where he has practice experience in both community and ambulatory settings, as well as board certification in ambulatory care pharmacy.

DeClue is the immediate-past president of Phi Lambda Sigma, the Pharmacy Leadership Society. He also serves as speaker-elect on the board of directors for the South Carolina Pharmacy Association.

Prior to becoming a pharmacist, DeClue earned a Master of Arts degree in English.

College of Pharmacy Dean Philip Hall nominated DeClue for an Emerging Leader Award. “Throughout his young career either as a pharmacy student, community pharmacist, or new faculty member, Dr. DeClue has exuded passion for helping his patients and for mentorship,” Hall writes. “He continuously seeks to learn new skills … [and] invests tremendous energy into ameliorating his leadership skills and inspiring students, residents and even his peers.”

Kahlil Demonbreun, DNP, ’12 | College of Nursing

Kahlil Demonbreun, DNP, ’12 | College of NursingKahlil Demonbreun, DNP, is the women’s health medical director at the Columbia Veteran Affairs Health Care System, where he maintains a daily clinical practice as a women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP), while leading a dedicated team of health care providers in the provision of care to female veterans.

Throughout his more than 35-year career he has consistently shattered the glass ceiling as a pioneer clinician. He has demonstrated clinical excellence as a med/surg gyn nurse, antepartum/postpartum/newborn nursery nurse, labor and delivery nurse, women’s health nurse practitioner, women’s health program nurse consultant for the state of South Carolina, and women’s health medical director in the Veteran Affairs Administration (VHA).

Demonbreun earned his Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree in the 2012 at the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing. As the first male women’s health nurse to hold a doctorate in nursing practice, he has been recognized by many organizations including the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses and the South Carolina Area Health Education Consortium.

Demonbreun’s colleague Sheryl Mitchell, DNP, nominated him for a Distinguished Alumni Award. She writes, in part, “Dr. Demonbreun’s expansive professional scope exemplifies MUSC’s mission of preserving and optimizing human life in SC and beyond. In doing so, he continues to elevate the standard toward the provision of interprofessional learning, discovery, and healing through the education of health care professionals and biomedical scientists, research in the health sciences, and comprehensive health care.”

Isabel Driggers, D.M.D., ’02 | College of Dental Medicine

Isabel Driggers, D.M.D., ’02 | College of Dental MedicineIsabel Driggers, D.M.D., graduated magna cum laude from Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with degrees in chemistry and German, and she received her dental degree from the Medical University of South Carolina. She completed her pediatric dental residency in Louisville, Kentucky, where she was chief resident.

As a board-certified pediatric dentist, Driggers worked for many years in private practices in the Southeast before founding Coastal Kids Dental & Braces in Charleston, South Carolina in 2009. Driggers affiliated with D4C Dental Brands in 2018 to continue growing her practice. Today Coastal Kids is a multi-specialty practice with several locations in Charleston and its surrounding areas.

Driggers has a passion for helping others, which is evident in her professional and community service activities. A member of several professional societies, she recently served as president of the South Carolina Academy of Pediatric Dentists. She also sits on the advisory board for PhaseOne Health, a company that has developed a hypochlorous acid product to be used in dental and medical applications.

Maria Cordova Salinas, D.M.D., nominated Driggers for a Distinguished Alumni Award. In her nomination, Salinas noted that Driggers is committed to using her time and talents to help adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Driggers leads a clinic in one of her Coastal Kids locations that is reserved primarily for this underserved population, and she funded an endowment for the Special Care Clinic at MUSC, where she volunteers as a part-time attending. Driggers is also the director for the Special Smiles Division of the South Carolina Special Olympics, which offers free dental care for Special Olympics athletes.

Natalie Gamble Johnson, DHA, ’21 | College of Health Professions

Natalie Gamble Johnson, DHA, ’21 | College of Health ProfessionsNatalie Gamble Johnson, DHA, is the associate dean for diversity affairs for the Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine. As the associate dean for diversity, her passion is to increase and enhance diversity among medical students, faculty and residents at the College of Medicine with the overarching goal of diversifying the physician workforce.

Johnson received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the College of Charleston, a master;s in clinical counseling from Webster University, and a Doctor of Health Administration degree from MUSC.

Johnson was the 2020 recipient of the MUSC Earl B. Higgins Achievement in Diversity Award and the 2021 recipient of the Community Service Award for Physical and Mental Health, awarded by the North Charleston Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Incorporated.

Johnson was nominated for a Distinguished Alumni Award by her colleague, Michael A. de Arellano, Ph.D. In part, he writes, “Dr. Johnson has made significant contributions to MUSC’s mission. She has played a vital role in the development, implementation and maintenance of programs designed to enrich diversity through recruitment and retention efforts with students, faculty, and staff.”

Kendrea Garand CScD, Ph.D., ’14 | College of Health Professions

Kendrea Garand CScD, Ph.D., ’14 | College of Health ProfessionsKendrea Garand, CScD, Ph.D., is “the only person in the world to hold both a clinical doctorate and research doctorate as a speech-language pathologist,” according to her nominator, fellow alumna and current College of Health Professions faculty member Annie Simpson, Ph.D.

Garand earned a Doctor of Clinical Science in Medical Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Pittsburgh in 2010, followed by a Ph.D. in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences from the Medical University of South Carolina in 2014. She then completed a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery at MUSC.

She is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Science and Disorders at the University of Pittsburgh. Garand directs the Swallowing Disorders Initiative Research Laboratory and is cofounder of the Alabama Dysphagia Collective. She is a speech-language pathologist with clinical expertise in neurodegenerative diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). She is a board-certified specialist in swallowing and swallowing disorders, as well as a certified brain injury specialist.

Simpson nominated Garand for an Emerging Leader Award, describing her as a “triple threat” as a “passionate patient-oriented researcher, clinician and educator.”

She continues, “In summary, Dr. Garand’s career dedication to advancing the field of speech-language pathology (particularly as it relates to swallowing and swallowing disorders), her selfless devotion of time in educating others (within and outside the speech-language pathology field), and her commitment to professional service and higher education encompasses her abilities as a leader.”

Brandi Hair, D.M.D., ’18 | College of Dental Medicine

Brandi Hair, D.M.D., ’18 | College of Dental Medicine Brandi Hair, D.M.D., is a passionate clinician with a strong dedication to diversity, community health and education.

Hair graduated from the College of Charleston in 2014. She earned a dental medicine degree from the Medical University of South Carolina in 2018. After graduating from MUSC, she pursued a general practice residency at BronxCare Health System in New York. Since 2019, she has provided mobile dentistry services to underserved communities in South Carolina through CareSouth.

Her passion for helping others led her to launch her own business, Sew & Suture, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hair designed and sewed expressive and stylish masks as an innovative solution to encourage mask-wearing among young people.

Hair now pursues her passions through organized dentistry and social media. She is an active member of the American Association of Women Dentists, serves as an editor for South Carolina’s Academy of General Dentistry and has been named social media manager for the Palmetto Medical Dental and Pharmaceutical Association. Hair uses her social media platforms to encourage oral health literacy with a vision of creating healthier communities. Hair hopes that by sharing her dedication toward improving community health, future clinicians will be inspired to positively impact communities.

Hair was nominated for an Emerging Leader Award by her husband, Reginald. In part, he writes, “Dr. Hair's path has been marked by her relentless pursuit of excellence and her unwavering commitment to improving underserved communities. She is a servant-leader and the ideal recipient of this award.”

Jennifer Means Stephens, Pharm.D., ’94 | College of Pharmacy

Jennifer Means Stephens, Pharm.D., ’94 | College of PharmacyJennifer Means Stephens, Pharm.D., is a vice president at OPEN Health in the US Evidence & Access Practice. She brings more than 25 years of clinical expertise and international health economics and outcomes research (HEOR) experience to OPEN Health. Previously, she was a co-founder and managing partner of Pharmerit, which merged with OPEN Health in 2019.

Stephens earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy from West Virginia University, and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the Medical University of South Carolina.

College of Pharmacy Dean Philip Hall nominated Stephens for a Distinguished Alumni Award, describing her as “one of our most successful, philanthropic, and engaged alumni.” He shared that Stephens has established two funds at the college to support students interested in non-traditional pharmacy roles.

Stephens makes herself personally available to mentor Pharm.D. students, regularly visits the college and works with her team to recruit MUSC’s pharmacy graduates, he continued.

In conclusion, Hall writes, “Her passion, mentorship, and entrepreneurial spirit has inspired students and colleagues, advanced the profession, and broken new ground for pharmacists in health economics and outcomes research.”

Paul “Glenn” Merchant, M.D., ’87 | College of Medicine

Paul “Glenn” Merchant, M.D., ’87 | College of MedicinePaul “Glenn” Merchant, M.D., a 1987 graduate of the Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine, has dedicated his life to the service of others, both those serving our nation across the world and those dedicated to the practice of preventive medicine.

Merchant received his first bachelor’s degree in political science from The Citadel, followed by five years of service in the Marine Corps as a Naval Aviator flying the AV-8A Harrier. In his quest to enter medicine, he returned to The Citadel, earning a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1983.

After an internship in family medicine, Merchant renewed his association with Naval Aviation, first serving at the squadron and group level as a Navy flight surgeon, followed by his residency in aerospace medicine. For the next 20 years, Merchant cared for sailors and Marines in the field and afloat, in peace and during war.

Currently, Merchant is the medical director on the Army’s Pueblo Chemical Depot, where he was instrumental in providing medical support to the United States’ efforts in successfully meeting international treaty requirements to destroy the remaining stockpile of our nation’s chemical weapons.

Merchant has been a leader in both aerospace and preventive medicine since completing his Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Merchant has held prominent leadership positions representing preventive medicine at the national and international levels. He is a past president of the Aerospace Medical Association, the premier international organization composed of more than 2,000 aerospace medicine specialists, flight nurses, physiologists, psychologists, human factor specialists and researchers from across the globe. In 2004, he was elected to the International Academy of Aviation and Space Medicine.

Merchant was nominated for a Distinguished Alumni Award by his wife, Debra. She writes, in part, “My husband has served our nation in war and peace for close to 50 years, and has served the profession of medicine at the national and international level since graduating from MUSC. He has excelled as a scholar, a teacher, and a leader who lives the principle of servant leader to its fullest.”

Tara O’Brien, DNP, ’13 | College of Nursing

Tara O’Brien, DNP, ’13 | College of NursingTara O’Brien, DNP, received an associate’s degree in Applied Science from Hocking College, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing with a minor in psychology, a Master of Science in Nursing Education from Ohio University and a Doctorate in Nursing from the Medical University of South Carolina.

She is an assistant professor and early-stage principal investigator testing non-pharmacological real-time self-management interventions to promote health outcomes in kidney transplant recipients at The Ohio State University College of Nursing. Her research seeks to shift the paradigm of using printed materials for promoting self-care to using wearable sensors and working with health coaches.

O’Brien and her team are building a mobile application called, “Keep My Kidney.” The Keep My Kidney app aims to integrate post-transplant education, self-health tracking, and motivation features tailored to individual health goals in one health app for kidney recipients.

She is the co-director of the Doctor of Nursing Education (DNE) program. The DNE program is the first in the United States to offer a terminal degree focused on evidence-based teaching for nurses in the academic or professional development setting.

O’Brien is a nursing leader with extensive volunteer service, serving on committees and boards at the local, state, regional, national and international levels.

She was nominated for an Emerging Leader Award by Tara Spalla King, a colleague at The Ohio State University. In part, King writes, “Dr. O’Brien’s leadership in kidney transplant research has made significant strides in improving the ability of kidney recipients to effectively manage their self-care, preventing unnecessary comorbidities, and reducing the economic burden for individuals and society.”

Jacqueline A. Savage, M.D., ’14 | College of Medicine

Jacqueline A. Savage, M.D., ’14 | College of Medicine Jacqueline A. Savage, M.D., is a board-certified internal medicine physician who practices as an academic hospitalist. She earned her medical degree from the Medical University of South Carolina and completed residency training in internal medicine at Yale New Haven Medical Center.

Savage also serves as associate program director of the internal medicine residency program in the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Her academic focus includes women in medicine, wellbeing within residency and fostering diversity equity and inclusion within the program.

Classmate and fellow alumni Juan Jose Villar, M.D., ’16, nominated Savage for an Emerging Leader Award. In his nomination, Villar writes, in part, “I would like to nominate Dr. Savage for her determination, and for becoming a leader in her field only a few years after graduation. Savage came from rural South Carolina, growing up without family support, and in financial hardship.” He notes she is the first in her family to attend college, as well as the first physician.

He continues, “As a minority and as a female, she strives for equality, works as a mentor to minorities, and continues to give back to the community as she always remembers where she came from. Dr. Savage is an asset to our society and MUSC should be proud and celebrate her.”

Cynthia Bradshaw Wilder, Ph.D., ’97 | College of Graduate Studies

Cynthia Bradshaw Wilder, Ph.D., ’97 | College of Graduate StudiesCynthia Bradshaw Wilder, Ph.D., earned a bachelor’s in biology from Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina in 1990. She earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the MUSC College of Graduate Studies in 1997. After graduating, she continued her post-doctoral studies in the Department of Oncology at Duke University and later in the MUSC Department of Medicine and Biochemistry.

Since 1999, she has been working as a patent examiner in the Biotechnology and Organic Chemistry Technology Center at the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia. Wilder examines applications in nucleic acid amplification disease diagnostics, with emphasis on cancer-related applications.

She has received numerous recognitions and awards for her expertise in patent prosecution. In 2020, she was awarded Examiner of the Year by the American Intellectual Property Law Association.

Wilder nominated herself for a Distinguished Alumni Award. In her role with the patent office, she promotes innovation and advancement of scientific discoveries. In part, she writes, “I have granted over 800 patents to many inventions that have been involved in real-world advances in improving the health and well-being of Americans, including being one of the first to grant patent protection of microarrays involved in the discovery of the breast cancer genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2.”