Cardiologist Skorton to lead Smithsonian

Cardiologist, jazz musician and arts advocate David J. Skorton, MD, will take over as the head of the Smithsonian Institution in 2015, making him the first physician to head up the venerable organization.

The Smithsonian’s Board of Regents voted March 9 to elect Skorton, 64, as its 13th secretary, effective July 2015. Skorton, currently president of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., will replace Wayne Clough, who will retire at the end of 2014. Skorton will maintain his position at Cornell until June 2015.

A specialist in congenital heart disease with a focus on cardiac imaging and image processing, he is a professor in the medicine and pediatrics departments at Cornell’s Weill Cornell Medical College and in the biomedical engineering department at the College of Engineering. He has published two textbooks and numerous articles on the application of computer analysis and processing techniques to cardiac imaging.

He was named president of Cornell in 2006 and has been credited with raising more than $5 billion in that period for the university.

Before then, Skorton was president of the University of Iowa from 2003 to 2006. He co-founded the University of Iowa’s Adolescent and Adult Congenital Heart Disease Clinic and helped found the Society for Adult Congenital Cardiac Disease, now the International Society for Adult Congenital Heart Disease.

Skorton is well known for his support of arts and culture. A saxophonist and flutist, Skorton has played professionally in Chicago as well as hosted a weekly radio show on Latin jazz while in Iowa, according to At Cornell, he writes bimonthly columns for university publications.

As secretary, he will oversee the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers and a zoo. “Becoming a part of the Smithsonian is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead an institution that is at the heart of the country’s cultural, artistic, historical and scientific life,” Skorton said in a release. “I am eager to work with the leaders of Washington’s art, science and cultural centers to emphasize the critical importance of these disciplines.”

He is a member of the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association; holds positions in the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and was charter president of the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs.

He received a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1970 and MD in 1974, both from Northwestern University. He completed his medical residency and fellowship in cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1979.