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Dr. Maria Del Rio-Hoover was named the 2024 IU School of Medicine Physician Mentor of the Year. Physician mentors provide ongoing support for medical students throughout their four-year journey at IU School of Medicine.

2024 Physician Mentor of the Year supports well-being of medical students in Evansville

Maria Del Rio-Hoover standing in center wearing red jacket and holding her award next to students Laura Cordero and Olwen Menez, holding a certificate

Physician Mentor of the Year Maria Del Rio-Hoover, MD, with mentees Laura Cordero and Olwen Menez.

As an Indiana University School of Medicine student on the Evansville campus, Laura Cordero initially struggled in her transition from Miami to southern Indiana. She missed the sun, the sea, the culture — and the food. Especially Cuban croquettes.

She found a kindred spirit in her physician mentor, Maria Del Rio-Hoover, MD, a Cuban American who practices neonatal medicine at Ascension St. Vincent Evansville. Del Rio-Hoover understood Cordero's craving for the deep-fried appetizer of ground ham in a creamy sauce with crispy breadcrumb coating.

“Dr. Del Rio-Hoover dropped off a care package that included homemade croquettes to get me through my final exams,” recalled Cordero, now a third-year student on the Evansville campus. “It made me feel a little more at home and like I was not alone in Evansville.”

Physician mentors volunteer to provide ongoing support for a small group of medical students throughout their four-year journey at IU School of Medicine. Their mentorship goes beyond academic and career advice. They support their mentees’ emotional and social well-being. The best of them do the “little things” — like cooking croquettes.

For her outstanding mentorship, Del Rio-Hoover has been named the 2024 IU School of Medicine Physician Mentor of the Year.

Dean Jay Hess, in red shirt, stands next to Maria Del Rio Hoover, in red jacket, holding her award trophy“Being a first-generation student in the U.S. and first health care professional in my family, I didn't realize how badly I needed a mentor to help me find my way in medicine,” said IU School of Medicine—Evansville student Olwen Menez. “Dr. Del Rio took me right under her wing.”

Del Rio-Hoover encouraged Menez to get involved with advocacy through the Indiana State Medical Association.

“My medical school experience was shaped largely because of who she inspires me to be every single day,” Menez said.

Along with Del Rio-Hoover, several other physicians were honored at the Physician Mentor of the Year awards reception held on May 1 at The District Tap in Indianapolis.

“Each spring, we invite all medical students throughout the state to submit a nomination to recognize their physician mentor for going above and beyond in their mentorship role,” said Abigail Klemsz, MD, PhD, assistant dean for student affairs and director of advising at IU School of Medicine. “All of our physician mentors provide a great service to medical students and are volunteering their time to provide positive support and a listening ear.”

Outstanding Physician Mentor awards went to Maryann Chimhanda, MD; Kristen Frane, MD; Michelle Howenstine, MD; Naoyuki Saito, MD, PhD; Patty Tharp, MD; and Bree Weaver, MD.


Here’s what mentees have to say about their outstanding physician mentors:

Maryann Chimhanda sits between four other people around a table at The District Tap.Twice named an Outstanding Physician Mentor, Chimhanda, an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology, was recognized for her kindness and committed investment in student learning.

“Dr. Chi, as I fondly like to call her, has demonstrated a remarkable dedication to my growth,” said fourth-year student Ethel Okonjo. “She consistently checks in on our progress, literally holding our hands every step of the way.”

Frane, a Fort Wayne pediatrician, frequently treats her mentees to dinner and checks in on their mental health. “Her presence fills the room with joy, as she is genuinely interested in our lives,” said fourth-year student Abigail Russell. “As a pediatrician who loves her job, she reminds us that what we are going through is worth it.”

Dr. Michelle HowenstineHowenstine, a professor of clinical pediatrics, formerly served as senior associate dean for Graduate Medical Education and Continuing Medical Education at IU School of Medicine, but she still found time for her mentees. She was previously nominated for the Physician Mentor of the Year Award in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

“Dr. Howenstine is a perfect example of an approachable professional,” said 2024 IU School of Medicine graduate Matthew Steinhart. “She has an incredible ability to relate to all those around her. She is particularly talented at meeting students wherever they are and making them feel heard and understood.”

Third-year medical student Michael Bobay said his physician mentor, Saito, is “one of the most supportive people I have met.” An assistant professor of clinical radiation oncology, Saito studies and treats blood cancers, sarcomas, skin cancers and breast cancers.

Dean Jay Hess stands with Dr. Naoyuki Saito, displaying his award certificate“Dr. Saito is professional at all times, yet still laid back enough to create a comfortable atmosphere conducive of relationship building,” Bobay said.

Tharp, an Evansville pediatrician, regularly invites her mentees over for a homecooked meal.

“She provided encouragement via texts to our group on the morning of big exams and finals and always cheered us on,” said IU School of Medicine—Evansville student Abigail Miller. “It feels wonderful to have a physician who understands what we are experiencing and who takes the time to encourage us and support us during these challenging years.”

Dean Jay Hess with Dr. Patty Tharp, holding her award certificateFourth-year medical student Hannah Davis said her physician mentor, Weaver, “fosters honest, empathetic dialogue, going beyond mere academic guidance.” Weaver is an assistant professor of clinical medicine and pediatrics and the Joseph J. Mamlin Scholar in Medicine at IU School of Medicine. Her clinical practice includes caring for children and adults living with HIV.

“Dr. Weaver's mentorship has been particularly influential in guiding me in my surgical interests, despite her specializing in infectious disease,” Davis said. “Her dedication and willingness to leverage her personal network for our benefit have been pivotal in our educational journeys.”

An IU resident talks with a man, sitting together at a table, during the award dinner.

Other physician mentors who were nominated for outstanding support of their mentees were:

  • Angela Delecaris, MD, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics
  • JT Finnell, MD, professor of clinical emergency medicine
  • Mary Harder, MD, dermatologist in South Bend
  • Rupal Juran, MD, adjunct clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in Evansville
  • Amanda Morris, MD, family medicine physician in Fishers
  • Matt Priddy, MD, family medicine physician in Carmel
  • Jason Russ, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine
  • Susan Steffy, MD, clinical assistant professor of medicine in Fort Wayne

The casual dinner reception included commendation from IU School of Medicine Dean Jay L. Hess, MD, PhD, MHSA, who thanked all nominated physician mentors for their volunteerism and support of IU medical students.

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Laura Gates

Laura is senior writer with the Office of Strategic Communications and loves to tell the stories of outstanding students, faculty and staff at IU School of Medicine. A native Hoosier, she has over 25 years of experience in communications, having worked with newspapers and other media organizations in Indiana and Florida, along with small businesses, community groups and non-profit organizations. Before joining IU School of Medicine in January 2020, she was editor-in-chief of a lifestyle magazine serving the community of Estero, Florida.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.