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David Cole: Man of vision and integrity set to lead MUSC

By Mikie Hayes | News Center | April 24, 2014

Dr. David Cole
Sarah Pack
Dr. David Cole is MUSC president-elect. 

A search of global proportions resulted in finding a star in our very own backyard. After nearly a year, not only is the uncertainty over, there is an unmistakable air of excitement on campus.

David Cole, M.D., the A. McKoy Rose, Jr, M.D. Endowed Chair, chairman of the Department of Surgery and president of MUSC Physicians, will soon shoulder the highest mantle of leadership at MUSC and colleagues and staff alike speak enthusiastically about his vision and ability to relate personally to all with whom he comes into contact.

Tom Stephenson, chairman of the MUSC Board of Trustees, expressed confidence in the board’s selection and noted that Cole’s experience and strategic vision will help the Medical University achieve the institutional goal of being one of the nation’s top 25 academic medical centers.

Mark Sothmann, Ph.D., interim president, shares the board’s conviction. “In my conversations with David, I have been struck not just by his intelligence, thoughtfulness, and diplomacy, but by how much he cares about MUSC. David has been extraordinarily successful in whatever he has chosen to do and I am confident that this pattern will continue with his presidency of MUSC for many years to come. As he faces the many opportunities and challenges presented to a president, he has the advantages of an in–depth understanding of our institutional culture and the credibility coming from his years as an MUSC faculty member and administrator. I look forward to the opportunity to work with him to advance MUSC, and I anticipate many others at our university share that same feeling.”

Cole’s assistant of seven years could not agree more. “MUSC simply could not have chosen a better leader than David Cole,” said Dawn Hartsell, administrative coordinator and assistant to the chairman. “He is a leader with vision who genuinely cares about people.”

Many of her colleagues feel the same way. Beloved, respected, honorable and kind were just a handful of the superlatives used to describe the president–elect by those who work with him in the Department of Surgery. In fact, while they can’t begin to imagine the department without him, according to Hartsell, faculty and staff were wildly excited when they received news that their chairman had been offered the position.

Following the announcement of his selection on April 17, Etta Pisano, M.D., dean of the College of Medicine, addressed the faculty and staff of the Department of Surgery at a meeting Friday morning. She spoke of Cole’s great character and integrity and said, “Of the 70 national and international candidates, David Cole was ultimately chosen because of his “patient–first” attitude which is the basis of this entire institution.”

As a result of his work ethic and the reputation he has earned over the past 20 years, Cole is proud of the fact he has built institutional trust. “It was meaningful to me when Tom Stephenson described me as a person of integrity. I believe that‘s an important quality. I’ve had tough decisions to make as the chair of surgery, but I’ve always done so thoughtfully, with discussion, based on defining the right thing to do. Even when people disagree with you, they respect you and the reasons for your decisions. That is a touchstone for me.”

He continued, “Integrity and trust are critical traits for a leader. You need to be able to inspire people,  especially in times of uncertainty. If you can get people to understand the other side and have respect for each other, and work towards a common good it’s a way to move things forward in a positive manner.”

Prabhakar Baliga, M.D., professor and director of the Division of Transplant Surgery, sees a very bright future for MUSC under Cole’s leadership. He said, “Everybody would say Dave is a visionary leader. For me personally, working with him closely over the last several years as the chairman, his biggest strength is his ability to create career paths for his division chiefs and faculty. He is a man of tremendous integrity whose decisions are always fair and based on what is best for the institution and for the patient. While we are all very excited for him, the department as a whole feels a very deep loss.”

Cole was selected from a large pool of highly competitive applicants, according to Sothmann. The board was confident that at a time when academic health centers face many challenges and transformative opportunities, Cole was the candidate who was uniquely qualified to chart the path and lead the institution into its next successful chapter.

Cole feels one of his greatest strengths is his openness and ability to relate to everybody at an honest level. “I am genuinely interested in the individual. I connect well with people and I care about who they are. As a surgeon, my success, if you will, other than being technically capable, is I do my best to have an impact for the patient. I will translate those skills on a different level. At the end of the day, medicine is about people and I believe being a successful President is about people — relating to them, understanding their needs, and ensuring things continue to progress.”

Colleagues and friends are quick to mention that in addition to his devotion to patients, Cole is a passionate family man. He is an involved father and his interests are tied to his family’s activities. Most recently, lacrosse has been at the heart of their lives as son, Bryan, plays for the Wando varsity team that competed for a third state championship this week. Hartsell said it has been “lacrosse–a–rama at the office” as everyone rooted for Bryan’s team.

Clemson University, too, plays a major role in the family’s lives. His daughter, Paige, graduates from the university in two weeks with a double major in English and education and a passion for teaching.

Son, Andy, a sophomore biology major at Clemson has been a rabid Tiger fan since he was four years old. “His bathroom has been painted bright orange for years,” said Cole.

Andy and his Sigma Nu fraternity brothers sat in the frat house awaiting news that the MUSC board had made its selection. When his parents called to give him the good news, he already knew as the guys had been checking the Web every two minutes, according to Kathy Cole, the university’s future first lady.

The entire family is ecstatic about this opportunity, she said. “We’re all about family, and MUSC is family. We are all behind Dave. This is the perfect position for him. He knows the institution well and he cares about MUSC with all his heart. He is deeply committed to doing the right things and developing the right paths for the future. His vision for the institution is great. He is proud of MUSC’s people and all they do.”

“When I came here in 1994,” he said, “there was a sense that things were happening here. Jim Edwards was building the university and all the pieces were in place. I wanted to be part of his vision and make an impact. It was an inclusive place and had a forward–thinking culture and at every step of my career, I can say wholeheartedly, that fact still remains true today. There is tremendous momentum here and as an academic medical center we are clearly a rising star nationally.”

When asked about his leadership style he stated that “I work to enable individual leaders, develop consensus, and ultimately make the critical decisions needed. I appreciate my colleagues and care about this institution. I am proud of MUSC and the direction that we are moving. Even more reason for me to say let’s move forward. We have startlingly good metrics — for instance, in my time as a faculty member at MUSC, our NIH funding has quintupled. Who else can say that? This is a remarkable institution because good people are doing good things with purpose. It provides momentum.”

The president–elect’s pride and positivity about MUSC’s future are palpable. “The reason why MUSC is such a special place — we do the unlikely.”



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