Mike Farrell Honored with Drake Award for a Life of Achievement
Mike Farrell Honored with Drake Award for a Life of Achievement
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." --Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”
Bill Schubert, MD, was a mentor and inspiration for Mike as he began his career.
Mike Farrell, MD, has had cause lately to think back on his 49 years at Cincinnati Children’s and contemplate the choices he’s made. He was honored on October 21 as a 2022 Daniel Drake Medalist by the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. The Drake Medal is the highest award given by the institution.
“We are all here by accident,” he says. “I came here as a resident for two years and stayed for a career.”
Mike started his journey as the son of Irish Catholic parents living in Austria, where his father was stationed post-World War II as part of the occupation forces. After five years, the family, which also included Mike’s sister, returned to the States, settling in Philadelphia.
“Family legend has it that my father did not handle the change very well, so he kind of drifted off into the sunset,” says Mike. “After that, it was basically my sister, my mother and myself.”
Mike credits eight years of Jesuit education with having a profound effect on his sense of social justice. “They believed in service to others, that each of us has an obligation to society,” he explains. “It was an important element in my life.”
By the time he got to college, he knew he wanted to be a doctor. He earned his undergrad degree and was accepted into medical school, but that summer, he got his draft notice. Vietnam was calling. He worked out a deal with the Navy that allowed him to graduate from Jefferson Medical College in 1970 and complete his internship at Harrisburg Polyclinic Hospital in exchange for three years of service (as opposed to the usual two).
“I spent one year as a general medical officer with the Marines in a small camp with a reconnaissance battalion on the less-inhabited side of Okinawa, then came back and did two years at Newport Naval Hospital in Rhode Island,” he says.
By 1974, the draft had ended, and many soldiers, including Mike, were coming home. He’d originally planned to go back to Pennsylvania but soon found that there were few residency slots available, especially in his field of interest—pediatrics. Then he learned of an opening at Cincinnati Children’s.
“I came here and met Bill Schubert,” he recalls. “And the rest is history. He was the inspiration for all that followed.”
Mike Farrell in an undated early photo.
Mike Farrell, MD, and his wife, Becky, were all smiles after he was presented with the Drake Medal in October.
Mike Farrell, MD, has made many contributions to the field of pediatric gastroenterology and primary care. Here are just a few of his accomplishments:
- Among the first to study the relationship between infantile apnea and gastroesophageal reflux
- Helped define the hepatobiliary complications associated with parenteral nutrition
- Participated in important studies defining vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus requirements in infant parenteral nutrition solutions
- Invented the Farrell Valve Enteral Gastric Pressure Relief System, aka the Farrell bag—a disposable plastic bag that is connected to vent a feeding tube, which is now used nationwide.
- Developed, with Ed Brissie, the manifold system for infusion of multiple solutions simultaneously in a sterile fashion
- Presented with the 2007 Murray Davidson Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
- Received a 2012 Educational Achievement Award from Cincinnati Children’s
- Served the AAP’s Section on Gastroenterology and Nutrition as a member of the executive committee and chair of the education committee
- Chairs the History Committee at Cincinnati Children’s, which is devoted to preserving the stories and artifacts of the medical center for future generations
As chair of the History Committee, Mike paid tribute to Bill Gerhardt, MD, a community physician who devoted many years as a volunteer staff historian for the medical center.
Bill Schubert had established the Division of Gastroenterology in 1968—only the second one in the country. He was considered one of the brightest physicians in the community.
Says Mike, “In those days, we didn’t have certain subspecialties, like endocrinology, pulmonology, or infectious diseases. So, Bill got a lot of those referrals. Being mentored by him was like getting a course in advanced academic general pediatrics, as well as gastroenterology.”
After Mike finished his training, Bill asked him to help run the pediatric residency program. And so, he became an academic pediatric gastroenterologist and a program director at the same time.
“My two loves—teaching and clinical care in an academic setting—were united. I was surrounded by brilliant physicians and investigators who also took the time to guide newcomers,” he says.
A Lifetime of Achievement
Mike quickly became known as a plain-spoken champion for children, especially the underserved. His best-known advice for residents is, “Just take care of the kid, and we’ll deal with the cr- - in the morning.”
He modestly denies doing anything spectacular, but he has many accomplishments under his belt. He collaborated with colleagues to develop the Nutrition Support Team, which improved outcomes for sick children throughout the hospital. His research has focused on parenteral and enteral nutrition (see sidebar).
He played an important role in establishing one of the first multidisciplinary intestinal failure programs, as well as the Home Care Program, of which he was medical director from 1988 to 2017. He advocated for and successfully implemented specialty care at Cincinnati Children’s first satellite location in Mason. And for the past 25 years, he has brought pediatric gastroenterology care to Portsmouth, OH, a small town about 105 miles upriver.
“Some of these folks have great difficulty getting to Cincinnati. The price of gas is high, and they just don’t like the big cities,” he says. “They really are grateful that we come out there. And other specialties have followed, like cardiology and sports medicine. GI now goes to Maysville and Batesville. I like to think that Portsmouth was our toe in the water.”
From 1993 to 2015, Mike served simultaneously as Chief of Staff and associate chair of clinical affairs. Additionally, he directed the Pediatric Residency Program from 1979 to 2001, during which he trained more than 500 residents. He instituted many combined residency programs at Cincinnati Children’s and the UC College of Medicine, including medicine and pediatrics; pediatrics and physical medicine and rehabilitation; pediatrics and genetics; and a triple-board-certified program in pediatrics, psychiatry and child psychiatry. He also partnered with community pediatricians to give residents hands-on experience working in an office setting.
Throughout Mike’s tenure, the medical center has experienced tremendous growth—in physical size, in the number and diversity of employees, and in innovation and technology. He became versed in quality improvement, with its emphasis on parent involvement and patient-centered care. Always taking a collaborative approach, he has earned the respect of his students and colleagues within the medical center and throughout the community. And he’s done this while managing to be a devoted husband, father and grandfather to his wife, Becky, their four children and five grandchildren.
“There’s nothing fancy or ambiguous about anything I did,” he says. “If there was a need, I tried to fill it. It’s as simple as that. As I reflect on the past 49 years, I’m overwhelmed by the number of students, residents, and fellows I encountered. It was a privilege to be their mentor, even in a small way. I’m grateful, also, to the staff, administrators, patients, and families who have accompanied me on this journey.
“I owe my biggest thanks to my wife, Becky, and my family. I could not have accomplished what I did without their blessing and understanding.”