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Smithsonian Leader David J. Skorton, MD, Named Next AAMC President and CEO

December 20, 2018

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PRESS CONTACTS
Brooke Bergen, Director, Public Relations

David J. Skorton, MD, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, has been selected as the next president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, the AAMC announced today. His appointment will take effect on July 15, 2019.

David J. Skorton, MD
David J. Skorton, MD

A board-certified cardiologist, president emeritus of Cornell University, past president of the University of Iowa, and member of the National Academy of Medicine, Skorton was selected after a yearlong, nationwide search.

“Dr. Skorton will bring an unparalleled record in higher education, health care, and national thought leadership to the challenge of serving and leading America’s medical schools and teaching hospitals,” said Lilly Marks, chair of the AAMC Board of Directors and a member of the search committee. “The AAMC Board was committed to recruiting a proven national leader who would bring an optimistic and inclusive leadership style, an inspiring vision, and a deep and nuanced understanding of academic medicine and health care. We found that person in David Skorton, a true national thought leader.”

During his tenure as secretary of the Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum, research, and education complex, the National Museum of African American History and Culture was opened, and the Institution launched the American Women’s History Initiative to highlight the stories of women and their achievements past and present. Skorton initiated a renewed emphasis on the arts in Smithsonian programming and completed a strategic plan with the goal of reaching 1 billion people annually by 2022 through a “digital first” strategy. He also initiated a plan to serve the local Washington, DC, K-12 school system through curricula based on the use of the Smithsonian’s national collections and education expertise.

He created a digital platform for Smithsonian and other thought leaders to explore challenges facing the nation and the world, from climate change to immigration to the arts. “I think we can and should take a more prominent role in convening discussions important to people, even when these reveal differences. Exchanging ideas among ourselves and with other experts in open conversations will enrich the exhibitions, research, education, and programs we produce,” Skorton wrote in an essay discussing the effort.

Throughout his career, Skorton has focused on diversity, inclusion, and underserved populations. At Cornell, he dramatically increased student financial aid while guiding the university through the early years of the Great Recession. At the Smithsonian, he initiated an approach to augmenting diversity and improving the workplace climate through senior leadership accountability.

“David is a courageous leader who looks beyond ‘what is’ to ‘what can be.’ At Cornell, Iowa, and the Smithsonian, he combined creativity, innovation, and opportunity to get things done,” said Marks.

Skorton served as president of Cornell University from 2006 to 2015, as well as a professor in the Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College and in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the College of Engineering. His clinical care focused on congenital heart disease in adolescents and adults, and his research was in cardiac imaging and computer image processing.

During his presidency, Cornell completed a $6 billion philanthropic campaign and won then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Applied Sciences NYC competition, partnering with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to establish Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Throughout his presidency, Skorton focused on student, faculty, and staff mental health through the frame of a “caring community” public health paradigm. To understand the needs of the student body, he and his wife lived in student residence halls during fall orientation of each academic year. Cornell honored Skorton by establishing the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives to realize his visible and visionary commitment to supporting student and campus health through innovation in institutional leadership, education, research, and public engagement.

Before becoming Cornell University’s president, Skorton served as president of the University of Iowa from 2003 to 2006, where he served for 26 years on the faculty in the Colleges of Medicine and Engineering.

“Serving the Smithsonian Institution has been one of the great privileges of my career. I am humbled and honored to be returning to my roots in medicine as I commit to build on the transformational leadership of Darrell Kirch,” said Skorton. “Health care in this country faces a number of seemingly intractable problems, and the AAMC — rich with data and intellectual heft through the combination of medical colleges, teaching hospitals, and academic societies — can and should be a leading influence in shaping the future of health care. As an eternal optimist, I see tremendous potential in harnessing the strength and creativity of America’s medical schools and teaching hospitals to tackle the formidable challenges facing health care, education, and research today.”

“In all our interactions, David exerted compelling and visionary leadership, demonstrated his inclusive problem-solving abilities, and brought a sense of urgency to the work ahead for the AAMC and academic medicine. The AAMC will benefit from David’s experience leading complex organizations through times of uncertainty, as well as the diverse and broad perspective he brings from executive leadership roles in higher education, health care, and government,” Marks said.

In addition to being a member of the National Academy of Medicine, Skorton is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the American Philosophical Society, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the Aspen Institute Health Strategy Group. He also served on the AAMC Board of Directors from 2010 to 2013, and he has been honored with myriad local, regional, and national awards throughout his career that recognize his service to medicine, higher education, and international relations. A passionate jazz musician and composer, Skorton plays the saxophone and flute.

He is married to Robin Davisson, PhD, a professor at Weill Cornell Medical College and the College of Veterinary Medicine, where she served as the Andrew Dickson White Professor of Molecular Physiology. She is also a professor of medicine at Georgetown University. Davisson is a recognized leader in science mentorship across the spectrum from preteens through postdoctoral trainees.

Skorton will succeed Darrell G. Kirch, MD, who will have served as president and CEO for 13 years when he steps out of the role in July.

The Search Process

In January 2018, the AAMC Board of Directors formed a 10-person search committee led by Marsha D. Rappley, MD, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) vice president for health sciences and VCU Health System chief executive officer. Committee members included leaders in medical education, clinical care, and medical research, as well as faculty and learners. The search firm of Isaacson, Miller partnered with the search committee and conducted interviews with more than 100 stakeholders before creating the position description. The search committee interviewed candidates in the fall of 2018, and the Board approved Skorton as the next AAMC president and CEO in November 2018.


The Association of American Medical Colleges is a not-for-profit association dedicated to transforming health care through innovative medical education, cutting-edge patient care, and groundbreaking medical research. Its members are all 154 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools; nearly 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems, including 51 Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers; and more than 80 academic societies. Through these institutions and organizations, the AAMC serves the leaders of America’s medical schools and teaching hospitals and their more than 173,000 full-time faculty members, 89,000 medical students, 129,000 resident physicians, and more than 60,000 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in the biomedical sciences.

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