Published June 13, 2018
The award is the organization’s highest honor. It recognizes New York State physicians who have been model citizens and notable representatives of the profession and who have proved long-term, illustrious service to medicine and the MSSNY.
“It is very gratifying to be honored by people who have known you well over a long period of time,” said Nielsen, a clinical professor of medicine.
“This award means a lot. UB educated and New York nurtured me. I am very grateful and will continue to work to try to pay it forward.”
Nielsen received the award at the MSSNY annual meeting in Buffalo in March. In remarks delivered at the award ceremony, it was noted that she has led “a nontraditional career.”
A West Virginia native, Nielsen came to Buffalo when she was 25 to chair the Department of Biology at D’Youville College.
With a PhD in microbiology, which she earned at Catholic University, she was then recruited to UB to develop a master’s program in microbiology while doing her own postdoctoral fellowship in clinical microbiology.
Having always wanted to be a physician, she then enrolled in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the age of 29, shortly after giving birth to her fifth child. While doing her residency in internal medicine at UB, she was named chief resident at Buffalo General Medical Center, the first woman to be selected for that position.
After establishing a busy private practice in internal medicine, Nielsen continued to pursue her interest in medical ethics, participating in the New York State Department of Health Board of Professional Medical Conduct.
She became the first physician to head its regional office in Buffalo. Her next position was dean for medical education in the Jacobs School.
Nielsen was president of the American Medical Association (AMA) from 2008-09, the second woman ever elected to that position.
She served as president of the Erie County Medical Society and Speaker of the House of Delegates for both the MSSNY and the AMA, becoming in many cases the first woman to hold these and other positions.
In 2009, she was elected to the National Academy of Medicine, one of medicine’s highest honors.
The MSSNY cited her “long-standing interest in ethics and the experience of being uninsured” as leading her to be a forceful advocate for the uninsured.
Nielsen noted that she was uninsured for two of her pregnancies during graduate school, which had a profound effect and fueled her commitment to gaining health insurance for all Americans.
She served as a spokesperson for the AMA’s “Voice for the Uninsured” campaign.
From 2011-13, she was senior adviser at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C.
In 2013, Nielsen returned to Buffalo and the Jacobs School to serve in her current position as senior associate dean for health policy.
She also co-chaired the Campaign Steering Committee for the new home of the Jacobs School, which opened in December 2017.
All five of Nielsen’s children were in attendance at the MSSNY awards ceremony.
“My five children were very young when I began medical school. They are very dear to me, so it was pure joy to have all of them and their spouses with me at this event,” Nielsen said.