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Susan Neymeyer with Anschutz Campus background photo

Dr. Susan Niermeyer Receives 2024 Florence Rena Sabin Award

Internationally renowned physician and public health champion receives prestigious award

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Susan Niermeyer, MD, MPH, a graduate of the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH), senior scientist in the school’s Center for Global Health, and Professor Emerita of Pediatrics was honored this week with the 2024 Florence Rena Sabin, MD Award. Presented by the leadership of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (CU Anschutz), Dr. Niermeyer became the first ColoradoSPH graduate to receive this distinguished honor.

“Dr. Niermeyer’s professional journey, contributions to public health, and many humanitarian efforts make her an extraordinary recipient for this prestigious recognition,” said Cathy Bradley, PhD, Dean of ColoradoSPH.

A native of Indiana, Dr. Niermeyer earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Zoology and Chemistry from Butler University. She then pursued her passion for medicine, obtaining her Doctor of Medicine degree from Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine. Subsequently, Dr. Niermeyer completed her residency in Pediatrics at the University of Colorado, followed by a fellowship in Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at The Children's Hospital Colorado and the University of Colorado. Notably, her commitment to public health would later lead her to pursue postdoctoral studies at the ColoradoSPH, where she earned a Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in epidemiology in 2009. She is among the first to graduate from the school following its founding in 2008.

“Nearly 80 years ago, Dr. Sabin called on Colorado to establish a school of public health to support the health and well-being of our state, but it would take six decades for leaders to heed her advice,” said Dr. Niermeyer. She continued, “to be the first ColoradoSPH graduate to receive an award that bears Dr. Sabin’s name is both an honor and an opportunity to reflect on her enduring legacy.”

Throughout her career, Dr. Niermeyer has been a steadfast advocate for infant health and wellbeing. Her areas of expertise include neonatal resuscitation, cardiopulmonary physiology in infancy, and global neonatal survival. She has played pivotal roles in a number of critical initiatives, such as co-chairing the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Neonatal Resuscitation Program Steering Committee and serving as a Senior Medical Advisor for Newborn Health with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). She was editor-in-chief for development of Helping Babies Breathe, an AAP program to prepare health workers in resource-limited settings with skills to provide life-saving care to newborns. The success of that program in over 80 countries led to incorporation of its educational methods into the 2024 Essential Newborn Care Course of the World Health Organization.

Dr. Niermeyer’s research interests extend to high-altitude medicine, focusing on adaptation in the neonatal period. Her groundbreaking research, conducted in diverse locations such as Tibet, Bolivia, and Peru, has shed light on critical aspects of infant health at high elevations including parts of the Centennial State. She was the site principal investigator for the recently completed National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded VentFirst trial, exploring respiratory support during delayed umbilical cord clamping for extremely preterm infants. When asked to reflect about her work in clinical care and research, she often paraphrases another notable clinician and one of her own mentors, Dr. Lula Lubchenco, saying “it’s about the babies.”

Service and excellence in humanism are essential parts of the ColoradoSPH DNA; Dr. Niermeyer shares these values and her dedication to others is evident in extensive charitable projects and volunteer activities. She shepherded better health outcomes in an advisory capacity through the Denver Health Managed Care Panel of Experts, the Global Neonatal Task Force of the AAP, and the United Nations (UN) Commission on Lifesaving Commodities. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was a volunteer vaccinator at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and contributor to an online database of literature on perinatal SARS-CoV-2. In 2019, she galvanized many of her colleagues to establish an endowed chair honoring Dr. Lubchenco. This would be the first endowed chair recognizing a woman faculty member (past or present) at the medical campus. Moreover, she established the Niermeyer Family Distinguished Professorship in Neonatology focusing mid-career faculty, aligning with her commitment to fostering the development of the next generation of leaders in research, education, and patient care.

“These diverse roles underscore Dr. Niermeyer's dedication to healthcare at both the local and global levels, showcasing her commitment to service and leadership in shaping health policy, clinical care, research, and education,” said Travis Leiker, assistant dean of external relations at ColoradoSPH and co-author of her Sabin Award nomination.

Dr. Niermeyer's legacy of academic excellence, commitment to health equity, and global influence truly embody the mission and values of the ColoradoSPH. Her tireless dedication to service and leadership serves as an inspiration to students, faculty, and practitioners alike, reflecting the very ethos celebrated by the Florence Rena Sabin, MD Award. The school congratulates Dr. Niermeyer for this and her many other successes.