Campus News

From engineering to ECMO, 2-time UK alum is mentor for all in College of Medicine

hubie and his student wyatt standing and smiling in the hospital.
hubie ballard standing and smiling for a portrait in the kentucky children's hospital
jodi llanora

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 17, 2023) — Hubert Ballard’s Kentucky-grown positivity is infectious. Affectionately known as “Hubie,” the University of Kentucky College of Medicine associate professor lights up the room with an unforgettable smile and has a fervor for helping others that has touched countless lives across the Commonwealth.

His energy is so uplifting, you would never guess that he has dedicated his life to a very intense medical specialty. For the entirety of his medical career, Ballard has been caring for newborn babies who are so sick that they require life support systems.

The passion he holds for helping others comes from his roots.

The youngest of 11, Ballard grew up in Bardstown, Kentucky, on a dairy farm where he learned how to be diligent and humble, and the meaning of hard work.

“Growing up on a farm instills humility and work ethic,” Ballard said. “It gave me a very interesting perspective on life. I have 10 older siblings who all are first-generation college students, which speaks to how hard our parents worked to raise us.”

After graduating from Nelson County High School, he attended the UK College of Engineering and graduated in 1992. Soon after completing his electrical engineering degree, he decided to attend the UK College of Medicine to become a doctor.

“I wanted to take my skill in engineering and combine it with medicine – to help people who are sick. When I decided to go into internal medicine and pediatrics, I was sitting with a mentor of mine, Chipper Griffith (now Dean Griffith), who was junior faculty at the time right after I completed my peds rotation in residency,” Ballard said. “Dr. Griffith just made a huge impact on my life and had a huge influence on me deciding to go into peds.”

From then on, he’s made huge strides in neonatology. Specifically, he’s used his skills to help direct and develop the incredibly successful extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) program for almost two decades.

While he’s incredibly passionate about neonatal medicine – he’s equally passionate about one other thing: mentorship.

“First, I love the opportunity and privilege of making a difference in a sick baby’s life,” Ballard said. “And second, I am absolutely passionate about teaching and helping the students and faculty in the College of Medicine grow at all different levels ranging from the fellows to residents, to students. Helping them grow and meet their potential is such an honor.”

Being a great mentor is something he hopes to embody and focus on for the rest of his career.

“My mentors made such a great difference in my life,” Ballard said. “I want to be able to do the same, for the next generation of doctors who come through the University of Kentucky.”

Currently, he serves as the faculty advisor of the Haflinger House, one of six mentorship groups – affectionately named after breeds of horses – in the UK College of Medicine.

“In the Haflinger House, we have get-togethers a few times a semester to foster community and form connections with each other as we go through medical school,” said Wyatt Southall, second-year medical student and current student president of the Haflinger House. “Hubie is our faculty lead; he leads about 80 of us. He’ll have us all over to his house for dinner and we just talk about school, and life.”

Southall remembers the first moment he met Ballard – which was actually in his interview for medical school.

“My first impression of him was like, wow, this guy is awesome, I’m really glad he was interviewing me,” Southall said. “And now, I mean, he’s just a blessing to know. Whatever is going on, he will make himself available for you, and you’ll walk out of that conversation feeling so much better about the situation. Medical school is hard, but Hubie makes it clear that he’s got your back no matter what.”

Aside from the group meetings, Ballard meets with each member of the Haflinger House one-on-one during the semester as well.

“You can tell he loves what he does, and always makes time for you,” Southall said. “Even if you’re not going into the same specialty as him. One of the greatest things is that he’s so well-connected here at UK – he’s always able to help you foster connections with all sorts of people across the university, which is a major help.”

But this mentorship is about so much more than medical school – Ballard is setting these students up to be successful in life as well and teaching them the importance of giving back in a variety of ways.

“He’ll teach us about finances, about saving for retirement, about dealing with burnout and coping mechanisms for when life gets tough – and sometimes it’s just a hang out to get to know one another,” Southall said. “These have been some of my favorite meetings. These real-life things we learn go hand in hand with our education in medicine, and Hubie plays a crucial role in fostering such a great environment as this.”

They even have spent time working as volunteers at God’s Pantry, to give back to those less fortunate in a different way than medicine.

The mentorship is so important to the students, that Ballard has an impact on them far beyond medical school. One former student, Jodi Llanora, just began OB/GYN residency at the University of Michigan a few months ago and looks back on her time with Ballard with great fondness.

“Early in my med-school career, I was interested in neonatology actually, which is how I first met Hubie,” Llanora said. “And even though I didn’t end up going into pediatrics, Hubie has remained a constant mentor throughout my life. He’s always been there as a source for advice and support for me and will continue to be that for far into my career in medicine.”

For Llanora, she wishes everyone could have a taste of what Ballard has to offer.

“I see him as a role model of what I hope future generations of the College of Medicine will strive to be,” Llanora said. “He is so warm and welcoming which made an incredible difference on my time there. Medical school is scary in itself – and it can be even scarier to reach out for help. I think if we can continue to fill the UK College of Medicine with people like Hubie, students will be set up for lifelong success even more than they are now.”

She says Ballard has had a massive impact on her life – and other former students, too.

“I so greatly appreciate all Hubie has done for myself and the College of Medicine,” Llanora said. “We’re all trying to do the same thing. To help patients, and to help each other. Hubie helps us and just makes that process a lot easier for everyone at UK.”

As Southall enters his second year of medical school, he looks forward to continuing his relationship with Ballard and hopefully becoming a mentor himself one day.

“It’s contagious, the way he is,” Southall said. “When I’m a physician one day, I want to practice and carry my life as he does. His legacy is being left in each one of us. And for that I am so thankful.”

Ballard plans on developing even further as a mentor and has been diligently working toward doing so. He has been accepted into the Brown University School of Professional Studies and ACT Leadership program. This program will continue to grow his leadership and coaching skills so that Ballard can continue to become a better leader and coach. He starts the program in the fall of 2023, and will be completed by early 2024.

“To lead students and help them grow in a way that allows them to give back to my home state of Kentucky, that is a true dream,” Ballard said. “And it doesn’t matter where they’re from, but the reality is, it’s always a little more special when it’s Kentuckians helping Kentuckians. This is what it’s all about – and it’s a true privilege to do so.”

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.