On New Smithsonian Head

“Monday Musings” for Monday June 6, 2016
Volume VI. No. 23/283

Skorton

Smithsonian Secretary, Cardiologist David J Skorton, MD

A Heart Doctor in the Heart of Smithsonian Institution

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

From ancient days, going back to Hippocrates (460 BC-370 BC—died at age 70), Galen (130 AD-201 AD—died at age 71), Avicenna (980 AD-1037 AD—died at age 57), to more recent physicians of note William Harvey (1578 AD-1657 AD—died at age 79), practice of medicine has been referred to as both science and art. I submit that medicine is more than science and art. Medicine encompasses ethics, theology and philosophy. Medicine is a calling. Medicine is a priesthood. It is a privilege to be a physician, and to be of service and help to one’s fellow beings.

But going back to the notion that medicine is science and art has been elevated to an unprecedented peak. Recently, the governing board of the Smithsonian Institution chose Dr. David J Skorton, a former Cornell University President, and former Cornell University Medical School Professor of Cardiology, to be the new Director/Chief of The Smithsonian Institution. The awesome responsibility of managing the world’s largest art institution is mindboggling. Smithsonian Institution, the “attic of the world”, is a stupendously large place. It consists of 19 museums, nine science research centers and the National Zoo. This is the first time a physician has been given the responsibility of directing the complex and behemoth organization. Congratulations to all of the physicians of the world. Before we explore the function(s) of Director Skorton, a few words about him:

Dr. David J Skorton

David Skorton was born in Milwaukee on November 22, 1949 (age 67). His parents moved to Los angles when he was 9. He comes from Russian ancestry. His father was a Russian immigrant who did not finish high school. In Los Angeles, the gentleman started a family shoe store and made a success of the business. David’s mother wanted him to be an architect but had no means to do so. She ended up working as a designer in an architect’s office. As an aside, to all the xenophobes who want to build a wall around America and keep the immigrants out, David Skorton’s parents and family are a good example of the extent of immigrant’s contribution to the enrichment of quality of life in our beloved America. I once tallied the Nobel Prize winners since its inception (in 1895, the first prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded in 1901), more than 80% are either foreign born or are first generation Americans
Kelly Crow, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal who interviewed Dr. Skorton quotes the newly appointed director: “Both my parents had artistic abilities. My dad sketched—I still have a couple of his drawings at home—and in the late 1950s, he and my mom made a mosaic wet bar top from glass and ceramic tiles. I never forget how he drew the shape of a genie coming out of a cocktail glass…” Also, his parents encouraged him to play a musical instrument. He took up the saxophone at age 9 and learned to play the flute at age 14. He is considered an excellent jazz saxophonist. While not a rival to James Galway, he is also an accomplished flutist/flautist.

David was a very bright student. After high school, he studied at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) where in 1970 he was awarded a bachelor’s degree in psychology. In 1974, he received his medical degree from Northwestern University Medical School. He returned to UCLA where he completed his medical residency. He was chief resident before his fellowship in cardiology.
In his nine years tenure as the President of Cornell, he has committed his time as an administrator to advance the integrity of research, fundraising, and progressive stance on issues affecting his institution. Among his accomplishments are the growth of Cornell University onto Roosevelt Island, via Cornell NYC Tech, and $4 billion in fundraising for the University. He not only belongs to America, he belongs to the world.

In the person of David J. Skorton, we have a giant of intellect, a giant in motivating others and a giant in raising the ethical bar in the conduct of faculty and administration of institutions of higher learning throughout the world David Skorton has become a role model for physician-servant-leader aspirants. He and his wife, Professor Robin Davisson, Professor of molecular physiology at Cornell live in Washington, DC.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is a Raleigh writer and dramaturge.

 

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