Photo above: Dr. Debara L. Tucci with husband Dr. Kevan VanLandingham
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams
Many of us can identify one influential leader in our lives who has inspired and motivated us, whose vision and mission have propelled us forward to make a difference. For Debara L. Tucci, MD, MBA, MS, that person is Howard W. Francis, MD, MBA, Chair, Department of Head and Neck Surgery & Communication Sciences.
Dr. Tucci spent 26 years at Duke Health as a Professor of Surgery in the Division of Head and Neck Surgery & Communication Sciences (HNS&CS) and director of Duke’s Cochlear Implant Program. Her career as a leading investigator, compassionate clinician, and dedicated educator in the field of otolaryngology took her to the National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders, part of the NIH, just before the division became a separate department in July 2019.
“We were certainly inspired by the founding of the new department (transitioning from a division in the Department of Surgery) and the leadership provided by Dr. Francis and others in the department to deliver excellent patient-centered care, train outstanding residents, and to do research that improves care and has global impact.”
While living in Durham during her time at Duke, she and her husband, Kevan VanLandingham, MD, PhD, supported causes such as literacy, the arts, and the health and well-being of the most vulnerable members of the area community. As they prepared to move to Bethesda, Maryland, they wanted to support the new department of HNS&CS, as the department was aligned with their same personal values, through many outreach activities and through patient care in the hospitals and clinics.
When asked what motivated Debara and Kevan to make their gift, she said, “We were certainly inspired by the founding of the new department (transitioning from a division in the Department of Surgery) and the leadership provided by Dr. Francis and others in the department to deliver excellent patient-centered care, train outstanding residents, and to do research that improves care and has global impact.”
She explained that “after spending my professional career at Duke, I am excited to see the changes brought by Dr. Francis, the new faculty hired, and the transition to a growing and highly impactful program. I wanted to be able to continue to contribute to the growth and development of the department in a meaningful way.”
Debara and Kevan see their gift as being responsive to the missions of the department as well as a means to encourage innovation and unique research contributions by faculty and residents. The endowed fund that their gift has established will support visiting professors and scholars who contribute to the intellectual and research development of faculty interests, introducing Duke faculty, residents, and alumni to new concepts and information such as machine learning applications in otolaryngology and head and neck surgery.
“Over the time that I have been in practice at Duke, I have observed that, increasingly, clinically-generated income does not provide the cushion and resources that it used to, to allow departments and faculty to fund initiatives that are ‘pre-NIH’—funds are needed to create the collaborations and begin the innovative work that then can lead to grant applications. This type of seed money is increasingly valuable to create a vibrant, dynamic, and forward-facing research environment. Duke does this very well in general, and the institution provides a welcoming and facilitative environment for collaborative work. Hopefully, these funds will help to facilitate that opportunity.”
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