John Dagle: Award for Service

John Dagle, portraitJohn Dagle epitomizes the role of a caring pediatrician, trusted colleague, and respected teacher and mentor. After completing a pediatric residency and neonatology fellowship at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, Dagle joined the faculty at Iowa in 1998. In addition to his role as a professor in the neonatology division of the Stead Family Department of Pediatrics, Dagle serves as co-director of the Iowa Statewide Perinatal Care Program. He also holds academic appointments in the UI Carver College of Medicine Department of Biochemistry and the Department of Epidemiology in the UI College of Public Health. Dagle has published over 70 peer-reviewed research articles and three book chapters, and he has received awards for excellence in both research and teaching.

While completing his third year as a medical student at Iowa, Dagle was inspired by a remark from faculty member and mentor Edward Bell, MD, an internationally renowned neonatologist.

“If you don’t push the wall, you’ll never know if it moves,” Dagle recalls. “That’s something that has stuck with me my whole life.”

Pushing the boundaries of what is possible has become Dagle’s goal throughout his career as a clinician, educator, and researcher.

In addition to Bell’s words of inspiration, Dagle’s career in neonatology also was shaped by residency training in pediatrics at UI Hospitals & Clinics and a particular emergency case that required his immediate help.  

A baby girl had been born prematurely, weighing only 510 grams, which is slightly more than 1 pound. The infant, named Destiny, was the smallest female infant the hospital had ever treated.

Dagle wrapped Destiny in a towel and carried her as fast as he could to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for specialized care and monitoring. Destiny survived, leaving a lasting impression on Dagle.

“That episode is what made me want to be a neonatologist,” he says. “She changed my destiny.”

Dagle has taken what he’s learned from decades of experience and has become a role model for others. He has supervised dozens of medical students, pediatric residents, neonatology fellows, and undergraduates.

To help illustrate his role as a mentor, Dagle tells the story of a fellow physician who admitted not knowing how to properly use a pipette, a common laboratory tool. Dagle provided instruction and encouragement, turning a potentially embarrassing situation into a teachable moment. Dagle notes that the encounter changed the career trajectory of the trainee, who’s now a funded researcher.

“It’s really important to set people on the right course to succeed,” he says.

After more than two decades as a physician-scientist at Iowa, Dagle says his greatest priority is continuing to teach and mentor the next generation of health care professionals.

“Before school every day, I told my own kids to be remarkable,” Dagle says. “And that's what I tell my trainees: Be remarkable every day.”

By: Molly Allen