Skorton Goes to Washington: ACC Member Selected to Lead Smithsonian Institution | Cardiology Magazine
David Skorton, MD, MACC, is a man of many talents. He is a master clinician, superb educator, creative and productive scholar, family man, musician and is soon to become the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution – making him the first physician to lead the organization.
No stranger to leadership, Skorton has been at the helm of many ACC committees and events, and is a past member of the Board of Trustees, the Board of Governors, the Annual Scientific Session Program Committee and numerous other committees and task forces.
Skorton feels physicians are uniquely qualified to be leaders and that his career as a cardiologist has prepared him to lead. “In general, I think a background as a physician is terrific preparation for executive leadership,” comments Skorton. “As physicians, we make decisions in conditions of uncertainty and are taught to listen and gather all information before jumping to a conclusion. The situations physicians are thrown into teach humility and how to be a team player. It makes you a leader who doesn’t need to pound the table to be heard.”
Skorton was first drawn to cardiology as a student at Northwestern University in Chicago, IL. “I aspired to be a musician when I was younger but I wasn’t good enough to make it in the competitive music scene,” Skorton remarks. “I had a great professor at Northwestern University who introduced me to cardiac auscultation. Listening to the rhythmic sound of the heart felt musical to me. That’s when I first knew I wanted to study cardiology.”
Since his cardiology fellowship days, he has specialized in both congenital heart disease (CHD) in adolescents and adults, as well as cardiac imaging and image processing. With a knack for applied mathematics, and human connection – especially with youth – the two pathways were a natural fit. “Adolescence can be a challenging time in any person’s life, and it is a time that is only made harder by cardiovascular disease. I wanted to be there to help young patients going through these trying times and be involved with their health, life, hopes and dreams,” Skorton says of his choice to specialize in CHD. “I truly enjoy the humanistic side of medicine.”
In addition to his love of cardiology, Skorton has always had a soft spot for education. Currently in his ninth year of presidency at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, he is well respected by faculty, staff and students and has been an all-star fundraiser – helping to bring in over $5 billion for the school. As preparations for Cornell University’s 150th Anniversary celebration are currently under way, Skorton is working tirelessly to make sure the year is a success, leaving little time to think about much else. “Right now my focus is on finishing out my presidency with Cornell, but I am hugely honored and humbled at my Smithsonian appointment,” says Skorton, who will officially take the helm of the Smithsonian Institution in July 2015. “I’ve loved the Smithsonian and what it represents ever since I first went to one of the terrific museums as a kid. I am excited to embark on this once in a lifetime opportunity.”
When he isn’t leading world-renowned organizations or treating patients, Skorton likes to unwind by spending time with his family and practicing his jazz flute. “I got to sit in with Billy Joel one time. It was amazing for me, but he must have lost my number because he never called again,” he jokes.
When asked how he finds the time to juggle all of his roles, Skorton will tell you how important it is to find time for family, friends and avocational pursuits, “As Stephen Covey asks in his book, First Things First: ‘How many people on their deathbed wish they’d spent more time at the office?’”
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