2024 Q&A Spotlight: Distinguished Professors Michael Pignone, MD and Kevin Thomas, MD

Duke University has awarded Distinguished Professorships to 32 faculty members, six from the Department of Medicine: Michael Pignone, MD, Vice Chair for Quality and Innovation, Professor of Medicine; Kevin Thomas, MD, Vice Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, Professor of Medicine; Kimberly Sherell Johnson, MD, Professor of Medicine, Geriatrics; Xunrong Luo, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine, Nephrology; Heather Elizabeth Whitson, MD, Professor of Medicine, Geriatrics; Christopher Beyrer, MD, Professor of Medicine, Infectious Diseases.

Distinguished Professorships recognize faculty scholars who are well-established members of the Duke academic community who have also achieved distinction as creative scholars in their field or in their ability to transcend disciplines.

Over the coming weeks, join us in recognizing these Distinguished Professors through our Distinguished Professor Spotlight.  

This week, we feature Michael Pignone, MD and Kevin Thomas, MD


Michael Pignone, MD, Rebecca & John Kirkland Distinguished Professor 


Where did your passion for quality improvement come from?

I have always felt compelled to try to improve work processes, even before I started in medicine. I am happiest and most fulfilled when I can help bring a team together to solve problems that can't be easily addressed by people working individually or in silos. 

Who has influenced you the most in life and why?

My parents were both strong influences on me. My mom was a social worker and later appointed to elected office. From her, I learned the importance of using the best available data to help solve policy dilemmas. My dad was an airline pilot. From him, I learned the importance of building a culture of safety and teamwork. Beyond my parents, I had the opportunity to learn from many great leaders in and outside of medicine. One in particular is Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund, who showed me how to use data and a strong moral compass to bring about policy change when I was an undergrad at Duke. 

What do you feel is your most significant professional contribution(s) to the field of medicine?

I am most proud to have mentored over 30 trainees in health services and health equity research and in operational quality improvement. I am looking forward to working with great colleagues here at Duke to expand opportunities for students, residents, fellows and junior faculty to develop skills in these areas and accelerate the performance of health systems locally, state-wide, nationally, and internationally.

What do you view as the biggest challenge to the field of medicine going forward and how can we address it?

I am motivated everyday to improve the implementation of known effective health services equitably and at a high level. There is a big gap between what we know works, from clinical research, and what is delivered effectively, efficiently, and equitably every day in our health care system.


Kevin Thomas, MD, Donald F. Fortin, M.D. Distinguished Professor of Cardiology 

Thomas Distinguished Professor

Kevin Thomas, MD, is a professor of medicine and vice dean for equity, diversity, and inclusion in the School of Medicine. As a cardiac electrophysiologist, his research expertise is addressing health disparities in racial and ethnic minorities with cardiovascular disease. He leads scientifically rigorous studies aimed at developing and testing interventions to reduce health inequities across a broad range of cardiac conditions and diseases. As vice dean, he creates and implements a broad range of policies and programs rooted in equity that foster a greater sense of belonging, engagement, and achievement.