When Dr. Nancy Andrews, dean of the School of Medicine and vice chancellor for academic affairs, steps down next year, she will leave behind a legacy of open collaboration and strong leadership, her peers said.
Andrews, who became dean in 2007 after working for 14 years in the Harvard Medical School, oversaw the expansion of Duke's School of Medicine with the construction of the Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans Center for Health Education, along with the establishment of four new academic departments. Her tenure was also marked by efforts to consolidate the medical school, including the formation of the Duke Cancer Institute. In July, Andrews announced her plans to step down from her position in June 2017.
"I have thought for a long time that 10 years is about right for this type of role. The deanship at Duke will be a very attractive job for rising leaders in academic medicine, and I want to give someone else the opportunity to take it on,” Andrews wrote in an email to The Chronicle in July.
The School of Medicine has retained its national reputation as a top tier medical school and research institute under Andrews. It has ranked in the top ten of U.S. News and World Report’s Best Medical Schools each year since her arrival and exceeded $650 million in annual research expenditure last year.
“We were surprised and sad that she decided to make this year her last year,” said Dr. Leonor Corsino, assistant professor of medicine and endocrinologist.
Andrews noted that when she started at Duke, she wanted to focus her efforts on four big challenges—fostering collaboration between the medical school and the other schools of the University, advancing research on a wide range of topics “from molecules to populations," improving diversity and inclusion and launching innovative educational programs.
She wrote that these projects were not finished, but that they were each at a "good transition point."
One of her largest focuses has been on opening up the School of Medicine and allowing it to form new interdisciplinary partnerships.
"I thought that this could give Duke a competitive advantage in attracting the best people and solving complex, real world problems,” she wrote.
MEDx—an 2015 initiative involving the School of Medicine and the Pratt School of Engineering—represents one of those interdisciplinary collaborations that has aligned research efforts between the two schools.
Dr. Geoffrey Ginsburg, professor of medicine and biomedical engineering and director of MEDx, noted that Andrews' idea to encourage conversation between departments is important to the productivity of research.
“The amount of money to invest in creating a forum that allows people to share ideas across disciplines is very small, but the impact can be absolutely huge," he said. "For every dollar spent, it’s possible to bring in 10 to 100 times more funding."
Ginsburg also explained that the modern scientific environment requires collaboration to be successful.
"We know that scientific problems today require much more than a single investigator in their own lab to solve—it has to be done through a team science approach," he added.
In its first year, MEDx has funded six projects and accelerated research in areas that Duke previously lagged behind in. Duke’s surgical robotics program—although previously not one of the school’s strong suits—is now “lively and vibrant,” Ginsburg said.
During Andrews' tenure, a number of other programs were established between the School of Medicine and the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.
"What clearly Nancy is seeing here is a campus that’s vibrant in terms of being interdisciplinary with opportunities for innovation, training and research that are being realized," Ginsburg noted. "I think that with Nancy's vision, MEDx will really catalyze much faster than it would without it."
Ravi Bellamkonda, newly appointed dean of the Pratt School of Engineering, was recently named to the search committee that will find Andrews' replacement. The search committee includes more than 20 of Duke’s leading physicians and researchers.
"Specifically to have the dean of engineering on the search committee for the dean of medicine I think speaks volumes as to the opportunities for MEDx to have this legacy from Nancy," Ginsburg said.
Perhaps one of Andrews’ most important contributions to the medical school started behind the scenes.
“Moving from an extremely decentralized culture to one with more collaboration across School of Medicine units and the campus, consistency of business practices and accountability of leadership is a process that takes years to accomplish,” wrote Scott Gibson, executive vice dean for administration in the School of Medicine, in an email.
Gibson added that Andrews’ leadership in consolidating the structure of the medical school was successful in part because of recent decisions in infrastructural investments.
Construction for the $235 million Duke Cancer Center was completed in 2012 to house the newly created Duke Cancer Institute.
Other major additions to the campus include the $53 million Trent Semans Center—the medical school’s first education building since 1930, completed in 2013—and a new $103 million medical sciences research building on Research Drive, which is expected to be completed in 2018.
Andrews noted that the addition of infrastructure, faculty members and leaders has also allowed the medical school to advance its many research goals, including in basic sciences, translation, clinical research and population sciences.
She has recruited “more department chairs and institute directors during the last nine years than at any time in the School’s history,” Gibson wrote.
In her role, Andrews has also spearheaded programs prioritizing diversity, including the establishment of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
“For me, as an underrepresented minority, [her biggest contribution is] fact that she put diversity as a priority,” Corsino said. “She has a vision, especially in diversity and inclusion—she started this before it became a hot topic on the national level.”
Andrews is the only female dean among the top ten ranked medical colleges and the first female dean of the School of Medicine at Duke.
"I believe that the best scientific ideas and the best medical care happen when diversity and inclusion are realized. I can't say we're there yet, but I think all of the senior leaders in the School of Medicine recognize that diversity and inclusion are and must continue to be top priorities,” Andrews wrote.
Andrews’ strong leadership over the past nine years has placed the School of Medicine in a good position to see further success in these initiatives and to continue as one of the nation’s best medical schools, faculty and administrators said.
“It goes without saying that the hope is that the next dean will continue to have as strong an interest in this area of innovation that Nancy has had," Ginsburg said.