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The Catalyst

MUSC President David J. Cole celebrates inauguration day

by Dawn Brazell and Helen Adams
Public Relations

Dr. David J. Cole, MUSC's seventh president, is presented the presidential medallion by wife Kathy Cole during an inaugural ceremony held Oct. 9. photo by Anne Thompson, Digital Imaging

David J. Cole, M.D., FACS, stooped down so his wife Kathy could heft a Presidential medallion around his neck marking his inaugural day, Oct. 9, at the Medical University of South Carolina on what turned out to be a picture-perfect fall day.

The couple, married for 26 years, shared a quick kiss with Kathy quickly wiping any lipstick off in a brief, tender moment shared in what was otherwise a formal occasion.

Cole became the university’s seventh president July 1, succeeding Ray Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D., who left last year to take a position with the University of Texas Health System. Greenberg and James B. Edwards, DMD, MUSC president emeritus, also attended the event.

Cole paid homage to his predecessors while setting the stage for where he hopes MUSC is heading.

“When I first started down this path, I believe I was motivated by a general thought that I could possibly do some good in a field that I found interesting,” he said of his work as a surgeon and researcher. “What I discovered as I continued in this career was a simple truth - medicine is about people, not achievements, surgical procedures, grants or clinics. “

Health care providers are given the unique opportunity and privilege to have a direct and lasting impact on patients’ lives, he said. “But I will tell you that it took me 10 years to come to understand that what makes the difference, or not, is your ability to connect with your patient as a person, in other words… your humanity: for them to understand that you actually care, and that you will do everything in your power to help.”

Harkening back to MUSC’s past, Cole referenced the seven physicians who in 1824 shared the bold belief that the state should have its own well-trained doctors and access to the best health care possible.

“I imagine those seven men would be astonished by what MUSC has become in the years since then: A comprehensive academic medical center that is recognized as one of the best in the country, consisting of not one, but six comprehensive colleges.”

MUSC has a dedicated staff and faculty of nearly 12,000, serving more than 2,700 students and 1.2 patients each year. Researchers are on the cutting edge of innovations in patient care, generating more than $230 million in extramural research funding each year.

MUSC President David J. Cole, center, is joined by wife, Kathy and MUSC board of trustees chairman Dr. Don Johnson, left, during a prayer in his inauguration ceremony. photo by Sarah Pack, Public Relations

Visitors lined up after the inaugural ceremony to congratulate Cole. Third-year medical student Arielle VanSyckel, who was the flag bearer for the College of Medicine, said she was honored to be part of the occasion.

“It made me feel encouraged and inspired to think that a physician could have that sort of impact on the world around him and to be such a significant person in the lives of so many people. It really set him apart as an individual and as a leader. I feel really blessed to be here in the school at a time when he’s going to take ownership of the future.”

Cherry Seabrook, a former MUSC nurse who volunteers to help cancer patients, said she had to be at the ceremony. She’s known Cole for years, and he was the surgeon for her brother. “Dr. Cole is a wonderful person. He’s dedicated and he means what he says. He’ll be great for MUSC.”

Republican state Rep. Jenny Horne said she found Cole’s remarks to be heartfelt.

“I am very excited about his vision for leadership for MUSC. We in the general assembly look forward to working with him to achieve his vision. He puts the patient first, and that’s what we should be doing in this state. Not only patients, but people first in government and health care.”

The same theme rang true for Patrick J. Cawley, M.D., executive director and chief executive officer of the Medical Center and vice president for clinical operations for the university. He said it was a great day for MUSC in general and exciting to have community, faculty, staff and students gather to celebrate a new era.

“To me, (Cole’s) singing the things I love to hear. Patient-centered, teamwork, diversity, all the themes I feel are important to deliver health care in the future. Dave feels the same way. He feels very strongly about all those things.”

Cawley looks forward to how Cole’s leadership style will shape MUSC.

“First of all, he’s a practicing physician. I think that brings a different kind of perspective. Not necessarily better, but a good, different perspective from previous presidents. He’s going to constantly talk about patients, patients, patients. What are we doing from a research perspective, from an education perspective? I like it. I come out of the clinical enterprise. I think at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about: patients.”

Cawley said that Cole lives and breathes what he talked about in his speech. “I know Dave, and these are not just things he’s throwing out there. He’s sincere. What you see is what you get. He lays it out there in a manner that’s honest and cuts right to the core. That’s how he is every day. He’s not just rising to the occasion for an inaugural speech.”

Cole Q&A

Q: How does it feel to have made it to inauguration day?
Well, it’s very energizing – months of work by a lot of individuals, excitement on campus, friends and family arriving.

Q: Now that you have had time to settle into the job somewhat, what are some of the key projects you are excited about taking on as priorities?
It’s an extensive list: preparing for the new children’s hospital, getting our leadership teams and structure ready for the future, strategic planning for the university, kicking off our universitywide Diversity and Inclusion initiative, positioning our information technology for the future - just to state a few.

Q: What has been the biggest adjustment?
Working to maintain my connectivity to the clinical domain, a lot of trips to Columbia, too many lunches.

Q:  How do you see your leadership style developing?
I would hope that it is more along the lines of others seeing my leadership style: open, accountable, good listener, focused.

Q: If you could get one key message out to staff and faculty at this point, what would it be?
We need to work together to prepare for the future. We cannot cling to the status quo. We have to change our siloed, individualistic academic culture. So, think big, communicate well and hold each other accountable. I am a firm believer in us. If we focus on those we serve, we will succeed.

Q:  What are some innovative plans in the works to move us forward?
Just first thoughts that come to mind: the new Children’s and Women’s Hospital is going to be a wonder; there is a lot of energy around improving communications; the Horizon Project, which will be a potential game changer; and the Foundation for Research Development that is on the launch pad. We also are discussing some exciting collaborations that are not ready for prime time. Stay tuned to your local channels…

Q: Would you elaborate on why the Horizon Project and what’s happening with the Foundation for Research Development is important?
The city of Charleston, the Medical University of South Carolina and the MUSC Foundation created the nonprofit Horizon Project Foundation about three years ago to guide a collaborative economic development and urban revitalization on the western side of Charleston Peninsula. The vision is to advance knowledge-based sectors and have a vibrant live-work community. This represents a real opportunity for our innovation partners, students and community to change our future landscape both in terms of living opportunity and in attracting industry and research partners to the local area.

The MUSC Foundation for Research Development (FRD) interfaces with industry in the area of technology transfer.  These activities result in a contribution to MUSC’s overall economic impact for our state and nation. Most importantly, by collaborating with industry, cutting-edge discoveries have the opportunity to become real life solutions to today’s medical problems. With new leadership and direction, the FRD has over the past three years had a remarkable trajectory of developing new patents, licensure and interface with industry that is very exciting. This represents a real opportunity for MUSC to leverage our intellectual capital in a meaningful way for the future.

To read more about President Cole or to see more photos of the Oct. 9 Inauguration highlights visit the MUSC News Center at


December 15, 2014



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