In 1924 James Buchanan Duke, an industrialist and philanthropist, established The Duke Endowment and directed that part of his gift be used to transform Trinity College in Durham, North Carolina, into Duke University. The following year, upon his death, Mr. Duke made an additional bequest to the endowment and the university, including funds to establish a medical school, hospital, and nursing home.
One of Mr. Duke’s primary motivations in establishing the endowment and the School of Medicine was the improvement of health care in the Carolinas. At a time when medicine in the region was still a cottage industry, James B. Duke dared to dream of creating what he hoped would become one of the leading medical institutions in the nation. By the time the new school and hospital opened in 1930, this dream was already well on its way to becoming a reality.
Less than five years after the School of Medicine opened, the Association of American Medical Colleges ranked it among the top 25 percent of medical schools in the country. It has consistently been considered one of the best academic medical institutions in the nation ever since.
The School of Medicine also is ranked ninth among medical schools for NIH research funding by the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research rankings released in 2023. Eight clinical science departments and two basic science departments in the School of Medicine ranked among the top 10 in the country for federal research funding.
The school’s unique MD curriculum allows students to study the core basic sciences for one year instead of two, giving them the opportunity to devote their entire third year to a scholarly research project. Students care for patients during their second year, a full year earlier than most of their peers. In 2020, the School of Medicine’s MD Program launched a new “patient first” curriculum that puts students in the clinic even earlier and trains them in social determinants of health, data science, and leadership.
The School of Medicine includes numerous highly regarded educational programs in addition to the MD program including the nation’s number one ranked Physician Assistant Program, the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program, a new Occupational Therapy Program, eighteen biomedical PhD programs, as well as nine master's programs.
The School boasts the research efforts of more than 2,600 basic science and clinical faculty. Their combined efforts make Duke one of the largest biomedical research enterprises in the country, with more than $1 billion in sponsored research annually. The School of Medicine, along with the School of Nursing and Duke University Health System, constitute Duke Health, which carries out the missions of patient care, research, education, and community partnership.
The School’s core values are:
Excellence in education, research, and patient care
Respect for and inclusion of people from all backgrounds
Commitment to service, solving real world problems
Sense of urgency in transforming discoveries into improved human health
Professionalism and integrity demonstrated in all aspects of performance and effort
The Duke University School of Medicine is committed to dismantling racism. In 2020, the School launched Moments to Movement, an initiative that brings together faculty, students, and staff from across the School of Medicine committed to sustainable change to create a more diverse, just, and equitable institution.
The website for Duke University School of Medicine is medschool.duke.edu.
School of Medicine Facts and Figures: medschool.duke.edu/about-us/facts-figures
School of Medicine History and Notable Achievements
1891: First plan for a medical school. Trinity College President John Franklin Crowell makes public a plan to create a medical college with a teaching hospital at Trinity College.
1924: Duke Endowment established. 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.
1925: Bequest to improve health care. James B. Duke makes an additional bequest to establish the School of Medicine, School of Nursing, and Duke Hospital, with the goal of improving health care in the Carolinas.
1927: Dean selected. Dr. Wilburt Cornell Davison, a pediatrician from Johns Hopkins, is appointed dean of Duke University School of Medicine and Duke Hospital on January 21.
1927: Construction begins. Construction begins on the School of Medicine and Duke University Hospital.
1929: Students selected. 3,000 applicants apply to the new medical school. Seventy first- and third-year students are selected, including four women.
1930: Duke University Hospital opens. Duke University Hospital opens for patients on July 21.
1930: Medical classes begin. The 18 third-year and 30 first-year medical students begin classes on October 2.
1931: Dedication ceremony. The dedication ceremony for Duke University School of Medicine and Duke Hospital is held on April 20.
1931: PDC organized. The Private Diagnostic Clinics are organized.
1932: First MD graduates. The first medical class graduates, including E.W. Robbins, MD’32, the first female alumna.
1935: Duke ranks in top 25 percent. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) ranks Duke among the top 25 percent of medical schools in the country—less than five years after it opened.
1936: Hospital infection breakthrough. Duke surgeons led by Dr. J. Deryl Hart pioneer the use of ultraviolet lamps in operating rooms to eliminate infectious organisms that cause post-operative infections. This procedure dramatically reduces the number of infections and related deaths.
1937: Equine encephalomyelitis vaccine. Dr. Joseph Beard, working with his wife and research partner, Dorothy Beard, develops a vaccine against equine encephalomyelitis.
1937: Brain tumor program established. Duke establishes the nation’s first brain tumor research and education program, launching what will become one of the world’s foremost cancer programs.
1939: Dietary breakthrough. Continuing through the 1940s and 1950s, Dr. Walter Kempner’s research, using a rice-based diet and daily laboratory testing, demonstrates that degenerative processes attacking the kidney, heart, brain, and retina can be arrested by dietary changes. These dramatic findings draw patients to Duke from across the nation.
1940: Medical Alumni Association organized. Duke’s Medical Alumni Association is organized.
1947: Research building opens. Bell Research Building opened as the first building of the medical center that wasn’t connected to the main buildings.
1950: Cerebral palsy hospital dedicated. North Carolina Cerebral Palsy Hospital is dedicated with forty beds, now Lenox Baker Children’s Hospital.
1950: Child-proof safety caps. Duke pediatrician Dr. Jay Arena leads the push for drug companies to develop the child-proof safety cap to prevent childhood poisoning, then a major health problem.
1955: Duke Center for Aging. Psychiatrist Dr. 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 the Study of Aging and Human Development has pioneered long-term studies of health problems among the elderly.
1957: Medical Center expansion. Outpatient Private Diagnostic Clinics and Hanes and Reed private floors and operating rooms opened.
1959: Advances in open-heart surgery. Duke develops a machine that lowers patients’ blood temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit and is the first to place a patient under this deep hypothermia during open-heart surgery.
1960: Second dean appointed. With the retirement of Dean Wilburt C. Davison, Dr. Barnes Woodhall, a neurosurgeon, is appointed dean of the School of Medicine.
1963: New building opens. The Clinical Research Building opens (Stead Building).
1963: Hyperbaric chamber. The hyperbaric chamber opens.
1963: Minority students admitted. The first African American student, W. Delano Meriwether, is admitted to Duke University School of Medicine.
1964: Third dean appointed. When Dean Barnes Woodhall becomes vice provost of Duke University, Dr. William G. Anlyan, a general and thoracic surgeon, becomes dean of the School of Medicine.
1965: Physician Assistant program. Under the leadership of then-chair of medicine Dr. Eugene A. Stead Jr., Duke establishes the nation’s first Physician Assistant Program.
1966: Building expansion. New Duke Hospital Entrance, the Woodhall Building, opens.
1966: New curriculum. Duke introduces a new medical school curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking and evaluation over rote memorization and provides greater flexibility, earlier clinical exposure, and increased research opportunities.
1966: MSTP established. The Duke Medical Scientist Training Program, a joint degree program leading to both the MD and the PhD degrees, is founded. It is one of the first three in the nation.
1968: Research building opens. The Nanaline Duke Research Building opens.
1968: Superoxide dismutase. Dr. Irwin Fridovich and graduate student Joe McCord discover the enzyme which protects all living things against the toxicity of oxygen.
1969: 1,000-foot dive. In its hyperbaric chamber, Duke conducts the first recorded studies of human ability to function and work at pressures equal to a 1,000-foot deep-sea dive.
1969: The Davison Club. A group of Duke medical alumni establish the Davison Club to provide support for scholarships and medical education at Duke.
1972: 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. In 1973, Duke is designated as a “comprehensive” cancer center by the National Cancer Institute in 1973.
1973: Expansion continues. The Sands Research Building opens.
1973: Duke Eye Center opens. The Duke Eye Center opens in what is now the Wadsworth Building.
1975: Research building expansion. The Jones Research Building opens.
1978: Cancer research expansion. The Morris Cancer Research Building opens.
1980: Duke North opens. The new $94.5 million, 616-bed Duke North Hospital opens, bringing the total number of patient beds to more than 1,000.
1981: Major scientific breakthrough. Duke biophysicist Jane Richardson’s ribbon diagram, a method of representing the 3D structure of proteins, is first published.
1982: Rare childhood disease breakthrough. Duke pediatric immunologist Rebecca Buckley uses matched or unmatched bone marrow transplantation to restore the immune systems of children born with severe combined immunodeficiency, also known as bubble boy disease. Today, Duke’s program is the world’s largest and most successful.
1985: AZT clinical trials. Duke becomes one of two hospitals to conduct the first human clinical trials of AZT, the first drug to offer a substantial improvement in the quality of life for AIDS patients.
1989: Fourth dean appointed. Dr. Ralph Snyderman, HS’67, a rheumatologist, is appointed chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine on January 1.
1990: New research building. The Bryan Research Building opens.
1990: Alzheimer’s discovery. Duke researchers discover a gene that increases people’s risk of developing the most common kind of Alzheimer’s disease, showing for the first time that it can be inherited.
1992: First bone-marrow transplantation program. The Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center develops the nation’s first outpatient bone-marrow transplantation program.
1993: First umbilical cord blood transplant. Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg performs the world’s first umbilical cord blood transplant at Duke, opening the door for lifesaving transplants between unmatched donors and recipients.
1994: Cure for DiGeorge syndrome. Dr. Louise Markert demonstrates that babies born with no immune system, a fatal condition known as complete DiGeorge syndrome, can be cured with thymus transplantation, a procedure she perfected at Duke.
1994: Major research expansion. The Levine Science Research Center and Medical Sciences Research Building opened.
1994: Breast cancer discovery. Duke scientists help discover the BRCA1 the gene responsible for many inherited forms of breast cancer.
1995: MRI lung image. Duke scientists, with colleagues at Princeton University, generate the first clear images of the human lung using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The new technique greatly aids diagnosis and treatment of lung disorders such as emphysema and asthma.
1998: Duke University Health System established. The Duke University Health System—an integrated academic health care system—is created as Duke establishes partnerships with Durham Regional Hospital (now Duke Regional Hospital, Raleigh Community Hospital (now Duke Raleigh Hospital), and other regional health care providers. Dr. Ralph Snyderman is the first president.
1998: New Ambulatory Surgery Center. Duke North Pavilion, a new outpatient surgery center, opens.
1999: Fifth dean appointed. Dr. Edward W. Holmes, HS’70-’74, a scientist specializing in genetics and metabolic disease, becomes the fifth dean of Duke University School of Medicine. The role of chancellor for health affairs is separated from the dean’s role and retained by Dr. Ralph Snyderman, who is also president and CEO of Duke University Health System.
1999: New clinics. The old Duke Hospital (Duke South) is renovated and opened as Duke Clinic in 1999.
2000: Children’s health center opens. The McGovern-Davison Children’s Health Center opens.
2001: Sixth dean appointed. Dr. R. Sanders “Sandy” Williams, MD’74, HS’77-’80, a cardiologist, is appointed 6th dean of Duke University School of Medicine.
2002: Research expansion. Genome Sciences Research Building I opens on LaSalle Road.
2004: Third chancellor for health affairs appointed. Dr. Victor J. Dzau, MD, a cardiologist, is appointed chancellor for health affairs, Duke University, and president and CEO, Duke University Health System.
2004: Eye Research Institute. Ruth and Herman Albert Eye Research Institute opens.
2004: Engineering-medicine collaboration. The Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine, and Applied Sciences (CIEMAS) opens, expanding the collaboration between Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering and the School of Medicine.
2005: Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology. Funded by the largest NIH grant in the country, Dr. Barton Haynes leads a team of experts in efforts to lay the groundwork for a vaccine against HIV/AIDs.
2006: Pompe disease cured. Duke wins FDA approval of the drug Myozyme, the first and only cure for Pompe disease, a rare and fatal metabolic disorder. The drug is the work of Y.T. Chen, MD, and Priya Kishnani, MD, in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Medical Genetics.
2007: Seventh dean appointed. Nancy C. Andrews, MD, PhD, is appointed the 7th dean of Duke University School of Medicine. She is the first woman to lead a top ten US medical school.
2009: Duke Singapore partnership. Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School opens as a partnership in research and education between the School of Medicine and the Singaporean government.
2011: Duke Cancer Center opens. The Duke Cancer Center, dedicated solely to the care of patients with cancer opens in February 2011.
2011: Major advancement in brain tumor research. Hai Yan, MD, PhD, and a team of scientists from Duke and Johns Hopkins universities identify mutations in a gene that makes 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.
2011: Primary Care Leadership Track. The School of Medicine establishes an innovative program to educate students who will become change agents in community health and primary care.
2012: Nobel Prize. Dr. Robert Lefkowitz shares the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Dr. Brian Kobilka, HS’87, for their work on cell receptors.
2013: Trent Semans Center opens. In January, classes begin in the Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans Center for Health Education, the first building dedicated to medical education since the Davison Building opened in 1930. The $53 million Trent Semans Center was paid for almost entirely through philanthropy.
2013: Duke Medicine Pavilion. The 8-floor, 608,000 square foot in-patient pavilion includes 160 critical care rooms, 18 operating rooms, and an imaging suite. The building’s environmentally friendly design earned it a LEED silver certification.
2013: First in human procedure Physician-scientist. Jeffery Lawson, MD, PhD, and Laura Niklason, MD, PhD, of Yale School of Medicine, develop a bioengineered blood vessel, which Lawson grafted into an artery in a Duke patient’s arm, the first in-human procedure of its kind in the United States.
2014: Anniversary of the heart transplant program. Duke celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the creation of its heart transplant program. More than 1,000 patients had received new hearts through the program at that time.
2015: Nobel Prize. Dr. Paul Modrich receives the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his groundbreaking research in DNA mismatch repair.
2016: Brain tumor treatment breakthrough. The FDA awards Duke “breakthrough therapy designation” for a poliovirus therapy for glioblastoma. The therapy was developed and is being tested by researchers at Duke’s Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center.
2016: Major milestone in transplantation. A Duke team, led by Linda Cendales, MD, performed 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.
2017: Eighth dean appointed. Mary E. Klotman, MD, becomes the dean of the School of Medicine.
2018: Brain tumor research. A Duke team led by Peter E. Fecci, MD, PhD, finds missing immune cells that could fight lethal brain tumors. The missing T-cells in glioblastoma patients were found in abundance in the bone marrow.
2018: Gut cell research. Duke researchers, led by Diego Bohórquez, PhD, discover a new set of pathways that allow gut cells to rapidly communicate with the brain.
2018: 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.
2018: Duke Cancer Institute Therapy Promising for Gioblastoma Long-Term Survival. 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.
2019: Advances in flu vaccine development. Duke Human Vaccine Institute received three research contracts from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), with an initial award of approximately $29.6 million in first-year funding to develop a longer-lasting, more broadly protective vaccine to replace the seasonal flu shot.
2019: Duke Human Vaccine Institute is awarded a $129 million grant in its ongoing quest for an HIV vaccine.
2019: Duke performs first HOPE Act HIV+ live kidney transplant in NC and region. A donor’s altruism leads to the nation’s second HIV-positive live kidney transplant.
2020: The FDA issues its first-ever approval of a video gaming device as a method for managing ADHD in children; the Duke Clinical Research Institute designed and conducted the randomized clinical trials that resulted in this approval.
2021: Pioneering therapy for immune system disease. The FDA approved the first and only therapy for congenital athymia, a group of rare and usually fatal diseases characterized by the lack of a functioning thymus. The new therapy is based on the work of Louise Markert, MD, PhD.
2021: Pan-coronavirus vaccine grant. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) awards $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.
2021: Alzheimer’s Disease Center established. The National Institutes of Health awarded funds to a collaboration between Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to establish a prestigious Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.
2022: Combination heart/thymus transplant. Duke surgeons perform the world’s first combination heart/thymus transplant, a procedure that should help the patient, a baby, overcome immune rejection without needing prolonged use of immunosuppressant drugs.
2022: Groundbreaking pediatric heart transplant. Duke surgeons perform the world’s first partial heart transplant, implanting living arteries and valves into a baby born with a congenital heart defect.
2023: Contract to produce pan-coronavirus vaccine. The Duke Human Vaccine is awarded a federal contract of $11.2 million, with the potential for up to $21.5 million, to manufacture a pan-coronavirus vaccine for clinical 1 trials.
2023: Breast cancer breakthrough. The FDA approves elacestrant, developed at Duke in the lab of Donald McDonnell, as the first treatment to fight breast cancers with mutations in the ESR1 estrogen receptor, which makes tumors resistant to standard endocrine therapy.
2023: First-ever treatment for geographic atrophy. A groundbreaking treatment for geographic atrophy, a progressive blindness-causing eye disease, is approved by the FDA following clinical trials at Duke led by Eleanora Lad, PhD.