This summer, the Stanford University School of Medicine will welcome Robert Harrington, M.D., as its new chair. Harrington currently heads the Duke Clinical Research Institute in North Carolina, the largest clinical trial research organization in the world. The Daily spoke with him about his goals for this new position, his upcoming transition across the country and current room for progress at the School of Medicine.
After completing his medical school studies at Tufts University and a residency at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Harrington came to Duke as a cardiology fellow in 1990. He has served on Duke’s faculty since 1993 and is currently the Richard S. Stack Distinguished Professor in cardiology. In 2006, Harrington assumed his current position as the director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute.
“The institute that I direct actually does research in 15 or more areas, including things like infectious disease, psychiatry, pediatrics, gastroenterology [and] cancer,” Harrington said. “So I am here directing the overall institute, but my personal research interest is in the area of chemic heart disease and therapies for that. In the more recent past, I’ve also gotten very engaged in what I would call the methods of clinical research, different ways of doing clinical research, different ways to ask questions, to answer questions.”
The Stanford Department of Medicine includes around 220 faculty members in 14 divisions. Harrington sees his new job as “[creating] a team within the department of medicine that’s bigger than the individual pieces.”
“I intend to both continue seeing patients as a clinical cardiologist as well as staying active as a clinical scientist,” Harrington said. “At Stanford, I don’t know exactly yet what my clinical duties will be, but it’s probably safe to say that it will involve acute care cardiology, meaning people who are acutely ill and admitted to the hospital with things like heart attacks or heart failure, as well as general consultative cardiology, when people have questions about the care of a patient who may or may not have cardiac disease.”
The continued practice of clinical medicine as an administrator is central to Harrington’s teaching style. He said he hopes to be a role model to students pursuing academic medicine by demonstrating the benefits of being involved simultaneously in clinical and scientific activity.
“Where Stanford has had a bit less in the Department of Medicine is the connecting of the health care system to … discovery science,” Harrington said. “The role of people like me who both see patients as well as do research is something that we would like to see increased in the Department of Medicine.”
As such, Harrington expects to see Stanford recruiting and hiring more faculty members who are engaged in clinical practice as well as scientific research. He noted that he hopes the excellent science on campus will provide new therapies for clinical purposes and that, in return, students of academic medicine will be more inclined to take advantage of Stanford’s scientific offerings.
“Ultimately Stanford wants to train leaders in academic medicine,” Harrington said. “And part of my job will be to create a department where those opportunities will present themselves to develop academic leaders scientifically, clinically and in the areas of medical education.”
Harrington listed a chief responsibility of his new position as leading the Department of Medicine residency training programs and fellowship training programs, with their subspecialties.
While he said he is excited about the job, Harrington admitted to being anxious about leaving his home of 22 years to move 3,000 miles away.
“What interests me at this point in my professional life is to really broaden my leadership in academic medicine from one that’s largely focused on the issues dealing with clinical research to a broader portfolio of issues that is represented by the department of medicine, meaning the clinical care issues, the research issues, both basic and clinical, as well as the education issues,” Harrington said. “[Being chair] was a nice opportunity to broaden my leadership portfolio and experiences and, as you might imagine, I am incredibly excited to do that.”
Harrington is scheduled to begin his role on July 1.
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