Victor Dzau’s legacy

Jun. 10, 2014 @ 05:30 PM

Dr. Victor Dzau, in an interview with The Herald-Sun’s Laura Oleniacz published this week, pondered the question of whether he had accomplished all he set out to do.

“I think it’s probably more important to say,” Dzau offered, “Where is the institution today, compared to 10 years ago.”

By almost any measure, Duke University Health System and the university’s vast medical school and research complex are bigger, better and sharper than they were a decade ago when Dzau arrived as CEO of the system and chancellor of health affairs.

And, it should be noted, it was then a renowned medical school and health system. He has built ambitiously upon a strong base.

The decade has been tumultuous for health care. Soaring costs – for patients and for medical education – have stressed the system. The contentious debate over and troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act presented shifting targets for health-care planners. Demands by insurers and consumers for more efficient and coordinated care have challenged health-care leaders.

And, as Dzau acknowledged in the interview, the hospital had to confront “a series of medical errors before I came, and since I was here.”

Dzau has led the health system through those shoals with unflagging zeal, imagination and forceful leadership. He and his team have redoubled, even tripled, intensity on patient-centered care and quality control. Physically, the sprawling medical complex astride Erwin Road has added the Duke Cancer Center, the Duke Medicine Pavilion expanding the hospital’s capacity, the Trent Semans Center for Health Education and the new School of Nursing Facility. In the midst of the Great Recession, Duke and Dzau found the resources to spend some $80 million on new facilities.

Dzau has preached inside and outside the halls of Duke the importance of healthier lifestyles and preventive care. He has led a push for greater focus on global health – and expanded the system’s footprint abroad with the Duke – National University of Singapore Medical School. 

Dzau, a cardiologist by training, never lost sight of his research interests, actively running a lab throughout his tenure. A leader in health care and medicine at Stanford and Harvard universities before joining Duke, Dzau in Durham immersed himself in campus life. He became, like so many transplants, a passionate Blue Devil basketball fan.

He dived into the life of Durham beyond the Gothic spires. He led community summits on health and, recently embraced leadership of an initiative aimed at disconnected youth and at providing training and opportunities for those our economic boom has largely left behind.

We are delighted those community leadership efforts will continue. Dzau in July will assume leadership of the Institute of Medicine. But he and his wife, Ruth – also a forceful community leader and vice chiar of the Museum of Durham History board – will continue to make Durham their home.

So we bid the Dzaus not farewell, fortunately, but heartfelt thanks for all they have done and gratitude for what they will continue to do here.