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A Sit-Down with MUSC'S New CEO, David Zaas

Celia Spell
June 05, 2020
David Zaas, M.D., MBA, is MUSC Health Charleston Division's  new chief executive officer and MUSC Health System's new chief clinical officer.
David Zaas, M.D., MBA, is MUSC Health Charleston Division's new chief executive officer and MUSC Health System's new chief clinical officer.

With a chuckle, David Zaas, M.D., MBA, describes himself as a disappointment to his family. Leaving Cleveland, Ohio to play football for Yale and pursue an undergraduate degree, Zaas was the first of his family to say goodbye to their hometown. And now he’s taking that leap a step further by moving to the Lowcountry to become the chief executive officer for the Charleston division of MUSC Health as well as the chief clinical officer for the entire health system.

To get to know our new CEO and CCO, we asked him a few questions.

So, what brought you to MUSC Health?

After spending 20 years with an organization like Duke University, you don’t often think of leaving. But last fall I learned about a new leadership role at MUSC and was told by several peers to look into it. The reputation of MUSC is outstanding with recognition for clinical care and a strong commitment to the community, and it’s one of the top academic medical centers in the Southeast. When I came to visit during the interview process I was really impressed by the people and the organization. Everything everyone said about MUSC was true – people here really are committed to the academic mission, and they are committed to helping the community and the state of South Carolina. The sense of enthusiasm and teamwork was evident in everyone that I met during the search process. Although changing organizations is never easy, I just knew that MUSC was the perfect fit.

How did you discover you had a passion for medicine and wanted to pursue a career in it?

I knew at an early age that I wanted to be a doctor. In high school, I did research at the Cleveland Clinic, and I loved being surrounded by all of that science and innovation. And working on a research team showed me how much value there is in working together. That’s what science is, working as a team to discover something that helps others. So, I left my hometown to complete my undergraduate degree at Yale. Next, I headed to Northwestern University for medical school where I met my wife. We dated all through medical school, married just before graduation and then couples matched for residency at Johns Hopkins with fellowships at Duke.

What inspired you to be both a physician scientist as well as an administrator?

I originally thought my career path would be that of a more traditional physician-scientist. After I completed my training, I started my career as transplant pulmonologist and a scientist interested in studying the molecular basis of infectious complications in transplant patients. But if you had asked me back in 2005 if I would have ever been a hospital administrator, I would have thought you were crazy.

A few years after my fellowship, I had an opportunity to lead Duke’s lung transplant program. While I enjoyed my short research career, leading our lung transplant program showed me my real passion was in management and leadership. I loved leading a team, and our lung transplant program became the top lung transplant program in the country.

My experience leading our transplant program led to other leadership opportunities at Duke in the School of Medicine and the faculty practice. While my clinical passion has always been in transplantation, I learned that I also really enjoy leading high performing teams. In 2014, I transitioned from traditional physician leadership roles to become the President of Duke Raleigh Hospital and was able to lead the outstanding team there. Reflecting on almost 20 years at Duke, I have learned so much from incredible mentors in each of my different roles. While I wound up taking a different path than I had originally thought I would take, all my experiences will help me be the best leader I can be for MUSC Health.

How do your two roles of CEO and CCO fit together?

It is really exciting to come to a health system that is growing and is committed to improving the health of its state. As the chief executive officer for the Charleston division, I will be working with the College of Medicine as well as the faculty practice to lead our clinical services locally. As the chief clinical officer for the health system, I will be part of a group called Team SC (System Council) where we discuss how best to integrate our growing system and provide the right care to the right patients at each of our hospitals. As the CEO and CCO, I will able to help bring the different components of MUSC Health together.

What are some things you like to do outside of work?

Having two teenage boys is the best part of being home, and we’re a very active family. Prior to pandemic, we loved to travel, experience different cultures, and find great places to hike wherever we go. My kids are also huge soccer players and fans, so we enjoy traveling as a family around the U.S. and around the world for soccer. More recently, my wife and I have been doing our best to become amateur wine connoisseurs, and we’ve had a great time with that.

Lastly, what are you most looking forward to in your new role at MUSC Health?

I’m excited to learn as much as possible about MUSC – its history and its people. I’m really looking forward to getting to know all of the 10,000 outstanding team members in Charleston who are critical to our patients. I have already learned that MUSC is an amazing organization and I am excited to be part of it. I know that we are all committed to providing the highest quality care to our community, educating our future health care leaders and advancing research and innovation to improve health.


About the Author

Celia Spell
M.S.
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