In 1925, James B. Duke created Duke University with a vision that the institution “secure officers, trustees, and faculty of such outstanding character, ability, and vision as will insure its attaining and maintaining a place of leadership in the educational world.” Accepting that challenge, Duke University School of Medicine has become one of the world’s outstanding medical schools. World-class research facilities in close proximity to the medical center and main university campus create an environment that is optimal for carrying out the teaching and research missions of the school. School of Medicine is proud of its past and is eager to face the continuing challenges of medical education innovation, cutting edge research, patient-centered care and leadership in the coming years.

Leaders Through the Years        Duke University Health System Timeline

School of Medicine Milestones: A Historical Timeline


Founding of Duke University

 James B. Duke establishes The Duke Endowment and directs that part of his $40-million gift be used to transform Durham's Trinity College into Duke University.



School of Medicine Established

 James B. Duke makes an additional bequest to establish the Duke School of Medicine, Duke School of Nursing, and Duke Hospital, with the goal of improving health care in the Carolinas and nationwide.


Wilburt Davison
Dean selected

Dr. Wilburt Cornell Davison elected first Dean of the Duke University School of Medicine and Hospital on 21 January.



Medical School Classes Begin

Eighteen third year and thirty first year medical students began classes on October 2nd.


Department of Microbiology

Established: 1930. Name changed to the Department of Microbiology and Immunology when combined with the Division of Immunology in 1964. Re-established as the Department of Microbiology when the Department of Immunology was formed in 1992. Merged with the Department of Genetics to form the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology in 2002.


Portrait J. Deryl Hart
UV Lamps Introduced into Operating Rooms

Duke surgeon J. Deryl Hart, MD, introduces ultraviolet lamps into operating rooms to kill airborne germs that cause post-operative staph infections, dramatically reducing the number of infections and related deaths.


Barnes Woodhall, MD
Nations First Brain Tumor Program founded

The brain tumor program at Duke is founded by Barnes Woodhall, MD, as one of the first brain tumor research and clinical programs in the United States. In the 1950s Woodhall becomes one of the first physicians to use chemotherapy on brain tumors. 


Dorothy and Joseph Beard
Development of Vaccine Against Equine Encephalomyelitis

Joseph Beard, MD, and his wife and research partner Dorothy developed a killed-virus vaccine for horse encephalitis, AKA "blind staggers," using ultracentrifuges and chick embroyos. The vaccine saved hundreds of thousands of horses and protected humans, which also helping establish the notion that killed virus is effective and safe as a vaccine.


Jay Arena, MD
Childproof Safety Caps

Duke pediatrician, Jay Arena, MD, leads the push for drug companies  to develop the childproof safety cap for medicine bottles. Dr. Arena is credited with beginning the first poison control movement in the United States, and his efforts led to the creation of the American Association of Poison Control Centers and the Duke Poison Control Center. 


BW arial view of the Duke Health Center in the 1950s
Creation of the Duke Aging Center

Psychiatrist Ewald W. Busse establishes the Duke University Center for Aging, the first research center of its kind in the nation. Now the oldest continuously running aging center in the United States, the Duke Center for Aging has pioneered long-term studies of health problems among the elderly.


Barnes Woodhall
2nd Dean of the School of Medicine

Dr. Barnes Woodhall is appointed Dean of the School of Medicine



William G. Anlyan
3rd Dean of the School of Medicine

William G. Anlyan appointed Dean of the School of Medicine.



PA Program Building
Duke Establishes First Physician Assistant Program

Dr. Eugene A. Stead Jr., then-chairman of the Department of Medicine in the Duke University School of Medicine, started the nation's first physician assistant educational program, a two-year curriculum to train people to fill a societal need for more medical practitioners, and expand the prior education and experience of ex-military corpsmen.


Irwin Fridovich, PhD
Enzyme Superoxide Dismutase Discovered

Irwin Fridovich, PhD, and graduate student Joe McCord discover the enzyme superoxide dismutase, which protects all living things against the toxicity of oxygen.


Thomas Kinney, MD
DUKE ESTABLISHES FIRST Pathologists’ Assistant Program

Dr. Thomas Kinney, Chairman of Pathology at Duke University Medical Center, saw a need for professionals similar to physician assistants in anatomic pathology, so he initiated the nation's first pathologists' assistant program in 1969. Pathologists' assistants perform tasks, under a pathologist's supervision, in autopsy and surgical pathology that had previously been performed by pathologists. 


Duke Cancer Center
Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center Established

The Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center becomes one of the nation’s first cancer centers to be established with the passage of the National Cancer Act. It is designated a "comprehensive" cancer center by the National Cancer Institute in 1973.


The Ophthalmic Technician training program is started. 

Ophthalmic Technician Program trains Ophthalmic Technicians (OpTechs), who work closely with ophthalmologists, to assist in caring for patients with eye diseases or injuries


Duke biochemist Jane Richardson
Jane Richardson’s Ribbon Diagram Published

Duke biophysicist Jane Richardson’s ribbon diagram, a method of representing the 3D structure of proteins, is first published.

Science's 'Mother of Ribbon Diagram' Celebrates 50 years at Duke


Rebecca Buckley
Cure for Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, Also Known as “Bubble Boy Disease"

Pediatric immunologist Rebecca Buckley, MD, uses bone marrow transplantation to cure severe combined immunodeficiency, also known as “bubble boy disease.”


First Human Clinical Trials of AZT

Duke becomes one of two hospitals to conduct the first human clinical trials of AZT, the first drug to substantially improve quality of life for AIDS patients.


School of Medicine Establishes the Department of Cell Biology

Michael Sheetz, PhD, named inaugural chair. 


Ralph Snyderman, MD
4th Dean of the School of Medicine and 1st Chancellor for Health Affairs

Ralph Snyderman, MD,  served as dean of Duke University School of Medicine and the first chancellor for health affairs. He oversaw the development of the Duke University Health System, and served as its first president and chief executive officer. 

1989 - 2001


Duke Researchers Discover a Gene That Increases the Risk of Alzheimer's

Duke researchers discover a gene that increases people’s risk of developing the most common form of Alzheimer’s disease, showing for the first time that it can be inherited.


Duke Researchers Invent a Test to Screen Newborns for 30 Metabolic Diseases At Once

Duke geneticists invent a three-minute test to screen newborns for over 30 metabolic diseases at once. Though devastating if undetected, the diseases can be controlled once identified. The test is now used throughout the country. 


First Outpatient Bone Marrow Transplantation Program

Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center (now Duke Cancer Institute) develops the nation’s first outpatient bone marrow transplantation program.


Department of Immunology Established

Thomas F. Tedder, PhD, named inaugural chair. In 2023, the department was renamed the Department of Integrative Immunobiology under the leadership of Raphael Valdivia, PhD. 


Mary Louise Markert
Thymus Transplantation Used to Cure Once-fatal Complete DiGeorge Syndrome

Pediatric immunologist Louise Markert, MD, PhD, uses thymus transplantation to cure once-fatal complete DiGeorge Syndrome. 


BRCA1 protein
Breast Cancer and Ovarian Cancer Gene Discovered

Duke scientists help to discover BRCA1, the gene responsible for many inherited forms of breast and ovarian cancers.


25th anniversary logo for the DCRI. VISIONARY; 25 years of improving health around the world.
Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI) founded

Although the inception of the DCRI dates to 1969 with the formation of the Duke Databank for Cardiovascular Disease, the DCRI as it is known today was formally created in 1996, with Robert M. Califf, MD, serving as the first executive director. The DCRI works to develop, share, and implement knowledge that improves health around the world through innovative clinical research. 

DCRI Celebrates 25 Years


Duke Researchers Discover Detectable Marker for Alzheimer’s Disease

Duke researchers are the first to use magnetic resonance spectroscopy to track levels of n-acetylaspartate (N-AA) as a marker for Alzheimer’s disease, proving that such a marker exists and that it can be detected.


5th Dean of the School of Medicine

Edward W. Holmes Dean of the School of Medicine and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.



Elizabeth DeLong, PhD
School of Medicine Establishes the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics

Elizabeth DeLong, PhD, named inaugural chair. 


R. Sanders Williams
6th Dean of the School of Medicine

R. Sanders Williams appointed Dean of the School of Medicine and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. Dr. Williams is also the founding dean of the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore that was established during his tenure.

2001 - 2007


Discovery of Gene that Determines Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Researchers at Duke and Vanderbilt universities discover the first major gene known to determine an individual’s risk for developing age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of visual impairment and legal blindness in the  elderly.


The FDA Approves Myozyme, a Lifesaving Treatment for Children With Pompe Disease

The FDA approves Myozyme, the first lifesaving treatment for children with Pompe disease. The treatment was discovered and developed at Duke. 


CTTI logo; Clinical Trials Transformation Initiative
Duke co-founds the Clinical Trials Transformation Initiative (CTTI) with the FDA

Duke University and the FDA co-founded the Clinical Trials Transformation Initiative (CTTI), a public-private partnership designed to create new solutions for better, more efficient clinical trials; DCRI serves as the host of CTTI. 


Nancy C. Andrews
7th Dean of the School of Medicine

Nancy C. Andrews, MD, PhD, named dean. Andrews, is the first woman to be appointed dean of the School and becomes the only woman to lead one of the nation's top 10 medical schools.



Russell Hall, MD
Department of Dermatology Established

The Department of Dermatology is established. Russel Hall, MD named chair.


Pediatric Trials Network, making drugs safer & more effective for use in younger patients
DCRI receives a $95 million NIH grant for the Pediatric Trials Network (PTN)

This grant was renewed in 2018; to date, the PTN has contributed to label changes for 15 drugs


Mutations Identified that Make Cells Immortal

A team of scientists from Duke and Johns Hopkins universities identify mutations in a gene that make cells immortal and appear to play a pivotal role in three of the most common types of brain tumors, as well as cancers of the liver, tongue and urinary tract.


Barton Haynes, MD
Duke Leads the Worlds Largest HIV Vaccine Trial

Bart Haynes, MD, leads the world’s largest HIV vaccine trial, which provides important clues about immune system responses that could play a role in protecting people from HIV infection. 


Robert Lefkowitz Shares Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Robert J. Lefkowitz MD, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, shared the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Brian K. Kobilka of Stanford University School of Medicine, who was a post-doctoral fellow in Lefkowitz's lab in the 1980s. They were recognized for their work on a class of cell surface receptors that have become the target of prescription drugs, including antihistamines, ulcer drugs and beta blockers to relieve hypertension, angina and coronary disease.

Robert J. Lefkowitz's Nobel Page


Trent Semans Center for Health Education
New Medical Education Building

The Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans Center for Health Education opens, the first new medical education building since 1930.


Surgeons performing a surgery
First In-Human Graft of Bioengineered Blood Vessel

Jeffery Lawson, MD, PhD, and Laura Niklason, MD, PhD, develop a bioengineered blood vessel, which Lawson grafts into an artery in a patient’s arm, the first in-human procedure of its kind in the U.S.


25th Anniversary of the Heart Transplant Program

Duke celebrates the 25th anniversary of the creation of the heart transplant program. By 2019, more than  1,500 patients have received new hearts through the program.


Dr. Paul Hahn performs a high definition scan on the left eye of patient
Paul Hahn, MD Performed the First Retinal prosthesis system in North Carolina.

The patient was among the first U.S. recipients of the Argus 2 surgically implanted "bionic eye." 


Duke Neurosurgery Logo
Division of Neurosurgery Elevated to Department Status; Sampson Named Chair

The Division of Neurosurgery, within the Department of Surgery, was elevated to department status, effective July 1, 2015. John Sampson, MD, PhD, chief of the division was appointed chair. 


portrait of man in lab
Paul Modrich Receives Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Paul Modrich, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator was one of 3 recipients of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for mechanistic studies of DNA repair. According to the Nobel Foundation, their work has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions and is, for instance, used for the development of new cancer treatments.

Paul Modrich's Nobel Page


two blue gloved hands holding a bandaged hand
Duke Team Performs First Hand Transplant in NC

A Duke team, led by Linda Cendales, MD, performs the first hand transplant in NC, attaching the limb to a 54-year-old patient from Laredo, Texas, whose hand was severed in a childhood accident. 


ECHO logo; environmental influence on child health outcomes. A program supported by the NIH
Duke Clinical Research Institute named coordinating center of ECHO

The project is part of a $157 million federal initiative aimed at studying how environmental factors affect childhood health (ECHO).


Mary E. Klotman, MD
8th Dean of the School of Medicine

Mary Klotman, M.D. -- a nationally renowned physician-scientist and academic leader who served as chair of Duke’s Department of Medicine for almost seven years -- was named Dean of the Duke University School of Medicine and Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs at Duke University

2017 - Present


Duke Population Health Sciences Logo
School of Medicine Creates Department of Population Health Sciences

The Center for Population Health Sciences was elevated to department status, effective July 1, 2017. Lesley Curtis, PhD, director of the center, assumed the role of interim chair.


Surgeon performing a glioblastoma biopsy
Researchers Develop Poliovirus Therapy for Glioblastoma

A genetically modified poliovirus therapy developed at Duke Cancer Institute shows significantly improved long-term survival for patients with recurrent glioblastoma, with a three-year survival rate of 21% in a phase 1 clinical trial. 




Breakthrough in Peanut Allergies

In a study using mice bred to have peanut allergies, Duke researchers were able to reprogram the animals' immune systems using a nanoparticle delivery of molecules to the lymph nodes that switched off the life-threatening reactions to peanut exposures.


Diego Bohórquez, PhD
Researchers Discover Cells That Allow the Gut to Communicate with the Brain

Duke researchers, led by Diego Bohórquez, PhD, discover a new set of pathways that allow gut cells to rapidly communicate with the brain.


physicians performing kidney transplant
Duke Performs First HOPE Act HIV+ Live Kidney Transplant in N.C. and Region

A donor’s altruism leads to the nation’s second HIV-positive live kidney transplant.


Duke Head and Neck Surgery & Communication Sciences logo
Division of Head & Neck Surgery Elevated to Department Status; Francis, Named Interim Chair

The Division of Head and Neck Surgery & Communication Sciences within the Department of Surgery was elevated to department status, effective July 1, 2019. Dr. Howard Francis, chief of the division, assumed the role of interim chair. 


Duke Clinical Research Institute receives grants totaling more than $130 million for COVID-19 research

DCRI received a $50 million PCORI grant for the Healthcare Worker Exposure Response and Outcomes (HERO) research program and received a $80 million NIH grant for RADx-UP, both research programs that will study the prevention and testing of COVID-19, respectively DCRI is Duke University’s top awardee for federal COVID-19 research funding.


COVID-19 spike protein
Duke Researchers Receive Grant to Roll Out Next-Generation Coronavirus Vaccine

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has awarded $17.5 million over three years to the Duke Human Vaccine Institute to develop a vaccine that protects against multiple types of coronaviruses and viral variants.



Mary E. Klotman, MD
Mary Klotman Reappointed Dean

Mary Klotman, MD, was reappointed for a second five-year term as dean of the Duke University School of Medicine, vice chancellor for health affairs at Duke University, and chief academic officer for Duke University Health System. 


Emergency room entrance Duke Hospital
Division of Emergency Medicine Elevated to Department Status; Gerardo Named Interim Chair

The Division of Emergency Medicine within the Department of Surgery in the Duke University School of Medicine was elevated to department status, effective July 1, 2022. Charles (Chuck) J. Gerardo, MD, chief of the division, assumed the role of interim chair.


baby in a bassinette wearing a hat with various medical sensors attached
Duke Health Performs World’s First Partial Heart Transplant

A team at Duke Health has performed what is believed to be the world’s first partial heart transplant, with the living arteries and valves from a freshly donated heart fused onto a patient’s existing heart.


Duke Urology Logo
Division of Urology Elevated to Department Status; Faerber Named Interim Chair

The Division of Urology within the Department of Surgery was elevated to department status, effective July 1, 2023. Gary Faerber, MD, chief of the division, assumed the role of interim chair.


Mary E. Klotman, MD
Mary Klotman Named Duke’s First Executive Vice President for Health Affairs

Klotman’s appointment, effective July 1, 2023, follows a restructuring of the leadership model for Duke Health’s academic and clinical missions.


baby in a bassinette wearing a hat with various medical sensors attached
World’s First Partial Heart Transplant Proves Successful in First Year

The world’s first partial heart transplant has achieved what researchers have spent more than a year hoping for -- functioning valves and arteries that grow along with the young patient.