The man who led and transformed the highly regarded Duke University Health System for nearly a decade is leaving.
Dr. Victor J. Dzau, president and CEO of the system, will step down in June to head the federally chartered Institute of Medicine, an independent, nonprofit organization that advises government policymakers, health professionals and the public on major medical issues.
Dzau said in an interview that it was an extraordinary and unprecedented moment in history for medicine, a time of huge breakthroughs in science and technology but also of challenges such as health care reform. He said taking the helm of the institute gave him a chance to make a difference on national and global levels.
At the same time, he said, it was hard to leave Duke. He called his years there the happiest of his life.
They were big ones for Duke Medicine, too, which has thrived under Dzau, despite the fact that he was in charge during a time of falling reimbursements from private insurers and Medicare and heavy competition between health care systems, such as neighboring rival UNC.
The system has grown from about 10,000 doctors and employees when Dzau arrived to more than 16,000, and patient revenue has more than doubled, from $1.3 billion a year to $2.7 billion.
Major changes he has overseen on the Duke Medicine campus include construction of the new Duke Cancer Center, the Duke Medicine Pavilion, the Trent Semans Center for Health Education and a new Duke University School of Nursing facility.
He also led a systemwide transition to a single electronic health record system, and spurred the creation of the Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School, the Duke Global Health Institute, Duke Institute for Health Innovation, Duke Cancer Institute and the Duke Translational Medicine Institute.
He declined to take credit for those things, though.
“These are accomplishments of the passionate, talented people at Duke,” he said. “I just feel honored to have been a part of that team.”
Dzau (pronounced “Zow”) is an authority on cardiovascular disease. Even while leading the health care system, he maintained a research laboratory that focuses on the molecular and genetic mechanisms of cardiovascular disease and the development of new gene and stem cell-based therapies to regenerate and repair tissue damage from heart attack and heart disease.
Dzau, who was born in China and educated in Canada, came to Duke in 2004 from Boston, where he was chairman of the department of medicine, physician-in-chief and director of research at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, one of the largest in the seven-hospital system with which Harvard University is affiliated.
He also was senior academic officer, director of academic collaborations and on the board of trustees of that system.
Since then, he has become a larger player on the national and international health stages. He is a member of the Board of Health Governors, chair of the Global Agenda Council on Personalized and Precision Medicine for the World Economic Forum and is a past chairman of the Association of Academic Health Centers.
The Institute of Medicine is a nongovernmental organization that’s charged with making recommendations to the nation about medicine, biomedical science and health. It’s part of the U.S. National Academies, a group of federally chartered nonprofit organizations that includes the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council.
Dzau will become president of the institute July 1.
He and his wife plan to continue calling Durham home, even while he works in Washington, D.C., with the institute.
He will become a chancellor emeritus at Duke. He said he will keep his lab there and intends to return to the university, perhaps to teach, whenever his work in Washington ends.