Schmidt-Nielsen Distinguished mentor & Scientist Award

2019 Bodil M. Schmidt-Nielsen Distinguished Mentor and Scientist Awardee

Peter D. Wagner, M.D.
The University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, California

Dr. Wagner completed his medical degrees from Sydney University in 1968 and subsequently sought research opportunities as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California San Diego. He then promoted to faculty in the Department of Medicine and remains there today as an Emeritus Professor. Throughout his impactful career, Dr. Wagner pioneered studies that advanced the understanding of pulmonary gas exchange and contributed to the understanding of human responses to hypoxia. This includes, but is by no means limited to, his development of the Multiple Inert Gas Elimination technique (MIGET) and novel findings based on experiments he conducted as part of the Operation Everest II research team. His research continues to integrate across disciplines of mathematics, cellular and molecular biology, animal models and human studies to address unanswered questions regarding oxygen transport and limitations in health and disease. The impact of Dr. Wagner’s work is reflected in hundreds of invited chapters and more than a few hundred manuscripts as well as several hundred publications that have applied the principles of his work.

Dr. Wagner is uniquely equipped with an extensive skill set that he has shared for many years with colleagues and trainees in the School of Medicine at UC San Diego and abroad. He has provided numerous international, national, and local lectures on his research and was recognized with the Faculty Distinguished Lecturer in 1994, the European Respiratory Society Teaching Certificate in 1996, and the Distinguished Teaching Award from the UC San Diego Academic Senate in 2002. These are in addition to various lectureships and visiting professorships. He has established collaborations and training opportunities in more than a dozen countries, received an Honorary Doctorate from University of Barcelona where he continues to participate in training programs, and recently taught undergraduate physiology courses in Australia for which he was granted the Sandford L. Skinner Oration award. He has made a lasting contribution in many lives and the field of Physiology, as exemplified by many achievements during his tenures as President of the American Thoracic Society, President of the American Physiological Society, Associate Editor of the Journal of Clinical Investigation and Editor of the Journal of Applied Physiology, and Division Chief of both Physiology and Pulmonary Critical Care in the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

In addition to these contributions to research and teaching, Dr. Wagner is a tour-de-force in every aspect of mentorship. His unique ability to fine-tune his comprehensive skill set to meet individual trainee needs is remarkable and has ensured success in others that will continue to ripple for generations to come. He provides a true model for success: explains complex concepts with impeccable clarity, holds the bar high and expects others to do the same, and will invest however long it takes to help a trainee achieve their goal or answer the question at hand. Colleagues and trainees alike have greatly benefitted from his leadership, direction, and example. Dr. Wagner also teaches through experience, providing opportunities trainees likely never dreamed possible. Many of his trainees apply techniques he pioneered decades ago, and he continues to promote their research objectives, working beside them and well beyond the call of duty, ensuring full involvement and an unwavering commitment to research.

More than 110 trainees’ professional and personal development has thrived under Dr. Wagner’s mentorship for the nearly five decades of his extraordinary career. Being a mentee of Dr. Wagner in many ways is like being part of an orchestra where he, as the conductor, never misses a supportive cue, where everyone is instilled with a sense of pride for their contribution, and each trainee is motivated to achieve their own level of mastery. Dr. Wagner’s immeasurable contribution to training -- his legacy -- will continue to propel the field of physiology forward for years to come.