New FDA Chief Tops Most Influential Physicians List

Marcia Frellick

April 04, 2016

New US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Robert Califf, MD, tops Modern Healthcare's 2016 list of the 50 Most Influential Physician Executives and Leaders.

Dr Califf, 64, is one of nine newcomers to the list. A story accompanying the list pointed out the context for his selection as number one: "The decisions he will make over the next few years — assuming he holds on to his job in the next administration — will redefine how drugs, medical devices, tobacco, food safety and controlled substances are regulated in the 21st century."

Among his top challenges will be addressing the growing prescription drug–fueled opioid drug abuse epidemic, "responsible for killing well over half the 48,000 people who died from drug overdoses in 2013," the article notes.

Dr Califf is among the quality experts and regulators who are increasingly moving to the top of the list.

Before his FDA nomination, Dr Califf, a cardiologist, was vice chancellor of clinical and translational research at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and director of the Duke Translational Medicine Institute. In addition, he was a professor at Duke's School of Medicine and cofounded the Duke Clinical Research Institute.

He also served on the advisory board of Medscape's He had been a contributor to since its founding in 1999 and was the host of the long-running series "Life and Times of Leading Cardiologists."

Rounding out the top 10 were, in order, John Noseworthy, MD, president and chief executive officer at the Mayo Clinic; Patrick Conway, MD, deputy administrator for innovation and quality, chief medical officer at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; Robert Wachter, MD, professor and interim chairman, Department of Medicine at University of California, San Francisco; Toby Cosgrove, MD, president and chief executive officer of the Cleveland Clinic; Richard Migliori, MD, executive vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer for UnitedHealth Group; David Torchiana, MD, chief executive officer at Partners HealthCare; Benjamin Chu, MD, newly named chief executive officer at Memorial Hermann Health System; David Feinberg, MD, president and chief executive officer at Geisinger Health System; and Jonathan Perlin, MD, PhD, president of clinical services and chief medical officer of the Hospital Corporation of America.

Three physicians have made the list for 11 of the 12 years the ranking has been published: Gary Kaplan, MD, chief executive officer of the Virginia Mason Health System (number 11); Dr Cosgrove (5); and Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (26).

Again this year, the list was heavily male, with 86% of the listers being men. Nearly half of the top 50 (48%) came from hospitals and health systems. The next two biggest groups were from government (16%) and from associations and foundations (12%).

Modern Healthcare writes that nominations were accepted online from November 9 to December 11, 2015. Readers provided criteria for judging the nominees, "including executive responsibility, leadership qualities, professional achievement inside and outside of their respective organizations, innovation and community service."

Then readers voted on 150 names. Readers' votes counted for 50% of the outcome; the other 50% was based on the opinions of Modern Healthcare editors.

Eric Topol, MD, Medscape's editor-in-chief, made the list again, this year at number 21. In 2012 he was number one.

The complete list, released April 2, is available here.


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