Q&A with Joseph Rogers: Future plans for the Department and leadership advice

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

After a 7-year tenure as Chair of the Department of Medicine, Mary Klotman, MD, officially became the Dean of School of Medicine last month. Before she left, she passed her role to Joseph Rogers, MD, professor of medicine (Cardiology), who has taken over as Interim Chair. Dr. Rogers is committed to continuing to improve the Department’s growth in education, clinical care, and research. In this Q&A, Rogers talks about his plans for the Department as Interim Chair, his advice on leadership development, and his passion for staying physically active.

Tell us about your background and experience in medicine and at Duke.
I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and attended the University of Kansas for my undergraduate training. I went back to Nebraska for medical school and residency before going to Washington University in St. Louis for my research and clinical fellowships. I stayed on the faculty at Washington University for 10 years before coming to Duke in 2004. 

My clinical interests have always been in advanced heart failure, particularly cardiac transplantation and mechanical circulatory support.  I am a clinical researcher and my research initiative is built around the advanced heart failure population. I served as the Interim Chief of Cardiology for nearly two years and simultaneously worked with Dr. Klotman as a Senior Vice Chair in the Department of Medicine. I've also held a role on the PDC Board of Managers and served last year is an Associate Medical Director.

With your new position as Interim Chair, what are your priorities and what new initiatives do you have planned for the Department?
Interim roles can be challenging. We will have a limited amount of time and success will require focus. We plan to roll out several initiatives over the next several weeks in each of our key domains: clinical care, research, and education.

The Department is at a very good place right now as a result of Dr. Klotman’s vision during her tenure as Chair and the hard work of the entire department.

This firm foundation gives us an opportunity to be innovative and strategic this year. In the clinical domain, we plan to focus on growth and access.  We need to develop new strategies to be more efficient and reduce the administrative burdens to providing healthcare. We have also begun planning some new and exciting clinical programs that will distinguish Duke from other programs in the region.

In the research domain, I am struck by the number of resources available to our scientists – unfortunately, it is not easy to access all of these resources.  A key initiative this year will be to develop systems to catalogue and curate the rich resources at Duke as well as funding opportunities that will facilitate scientific inquiry.  Once completed, I think we will have a clearer idea of deficits in our infrastructure that require investment. I also plan to leverage some of the new School centers and programs to invest in pilot funding for young investigators. 

"It is a special place that is unique in American medicine. The Department is one of just a handful in the US that is accomplished in so many areas.  It cannot be emphasized sufficiently that the success is entirely related to the people – the University would be nothing without the outstanding faculty, trainees and staff." 

 Joseph Rogers, MD

From an educational perspective, we will continue our focus on the residency and fellowship training programs ensuring that Duke remains the premier training program in the United States with opportunities for our colleagues to grow personally and professionally.  We have already commissioned a task force of educational leaders in the Department to create a roadmap for our education in the next decade that addresses all aspects of this mission – from medical students to post-graduate training.

Finally, an area about which I am passionate is ensuring that we are being mindful of the people that work in our academic health system. The entire institution is impressively high-functioning and complex, which adds to the enjoyment of working here. Along with those benefits comes pressure to produce more with the same resources. 

We will be looking closely to reduce redundancies and improve efficiencies where possible. I also think there are opportunities to improve the manner in which we function by updating our technology infrastructure. We will make other changes designed to improve the faculty experience. 

You have held several leadership roles during your time at Duke. What experiences here at Duke or elsewhere were crucial in the development of your leadership style?
As I mentioned above, I have had wonderful leadership opportunities throughout my career as well as talented mentors who have helped shape my leadership style.  As I reflect on this, though, my leadership foundations were formed in elementary school where we all learned the importance of hard work, kindness, courtesy, compassion, and honesty. Over the years, the importance of teamwork has become so obvious to me.  The Department is large and there are multiple missions.  Our success has (and will) depended upon all of us working toward common goals.  I also think that it is critical for us to set priorities and be goal-oriented. The old adage, “we can do anything, but we cannot do everything,” is increasingly true during a transition year. 

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to develop his or her leadership skills?
Learn and practice. We are all leaders in some aspect of our lives whether it be at home, at work, at church or in other organizations. Some of our leadership skills were learned at home or in school. That said, there are individuals who are recognized for their leadership skills and who teach others to be outstanding.  I would encourage people to read about leadership styles and skills and then practice some of those principles in your own lives. 

Outside of work, what do you do for fun that helps you perform your job better?
Outside of the hospital, I enjoy being physically active. I have a passion for taking “power walks” in the middle of the afternoon during the summer. I've also taken up fly-fishing since I moved to North Carolina.  I also greatly enjoy spending time with family and friends over a meal.  There is nothing that bonds people more than conversation and food.

What else would you like Department of Medicine staff to know about you?
Although I did not train here, I have a genuine passion for Duke University and the Department of Medicine.  It is a special place that is unique in American medicine. The Department is one of just a handful in the US that is accomplished in so many areas.  It cannot be emphasized sufficiently that the success is entirely related to the people – the University would be nothing without the outstanding faculty, trainees and staff.  I also hope that we never are satisfied. There are always opportunities to be innovative and improve- that is what should make us come to work each day.