Yes, Dr. Robert Califf has written or co-written more than 1,000 peer-reviewed articles. The Institute for Scientific Information says Califf, a finalist for the job of chancellor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, is one of the 10 most-cited authors in medicine.
But to Dr. Clyde Yancy, a fellow cardiologist who is chief of cardiology at Northwestern University's medical school, the number of articles Califf has written is “a much too pedestrian measure” of his impact.
“I, too, have published a lot of papers,” Yancy said. “It's another thing to develop the mental template that allows us to understand how best to practice medicine.”
He said the template developed by Califf and his associates at the Duke Clinical Research Institute, which Califf founded, formed the backbone of what is known as the “randomized, controlled clinical trial.” Such trials, considered the gold standard in medicine, help researchers determine whether a cause-and-effect relationship exists between a treatment and an outcome.
Califf, 61, serves as vice chancellor for clinical research and as director of the Duke Translational Medicine Institute at the Duke University Medical Center.
Califf will visit the UNMC campus Monday through Wednesday. He will give a public presentation at 4 p.m. Tuesday in Room 1002 of the Durham Research Center.
When asked about Yancy's assessment of his impact, Califf said Yancy was giving him and his Duke colleagues too much credit. He acknowledges that he was exposed to one of the first computerized databases in the 1970s, when a computer took up an entire room.
“What you could see in that time was you could store and retrieve information that no one could remember on their own. Now we're talking about vast networks of information that can be used to inform decisions in a much better way than I could have ever imagined.”
The job of academic health centers, Califf said, is to help figure out how to make sense of that information and get it to people in a way that leads to good decisions about their health.
The translational medicine institute Califf leads has more than 1,200 employees and 200 faculty members. Dr. Nancy Andrews, vice chancellor for academic affairs and dean of Duke's School of Medicine, said Califf is “a very talented clinical investigator who has a broad vision for where clinical research should be going in the future and how research within health systems may be developed to improve patient care. I think he's been a big contributor to the institution.”
Califf spoke for Duke last year during an appearance on CBS's “60 Minutes” after serious problems were discovered in a Duke cancer researcher's work following its publication. The researcher's mentor, who also appeared on the program, said he reviewed the original data and found it had been manipulated — if they data disproved the researcher's theory, they were changed.
The researcher resigned from Duke. Califf told the news program that the school was implementing new procedures for data management, involving statisticians “in everything that we do,” re-examining its rules governing conflicts of interest and looking at the fundamental issue of accountability. Califf also oversaw the retraction of the researcher's papers from medical journals.
Dr. Robert Harrington, the chairman of Stanford University's Department of Medicine, used to work with Califf at Duke. “He is the most intellectually honest and capable person that I have come across in medicine,” Harrington said. “Brilliant and visionary describe him. At same time, he is thoughtful and hardworking.
“He sees himself as a doctor first and cares deeply about taking care of patients. He wouldn't tell you this, but he is a great cardiologist, especially in the critical care setting.”
Cailiff is the editor in chief of American Heart Journal, the oldest cardiovascular specialty journal.
Califf said he has done some fundraising in his job, a task high on the list of duties of the current UNMC chancellor, Dr. Hal Maurer.
“Any major research organization has to have a balanced portfolio of funding, including philanthropy,” Califf said. “The key is matching someone who wants to get something done through a philanthropic gift with the talents of the organization and the faculty.”
Califf and his wife, Lydia, a retired nurse, recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. The couple have three children, 35, 30 and 28, and a grandchild. Their daughter works as a study coordinator in clinical trials involving diabetes treatment. The elder son is working on a doctorate in aerospace sciences at the University of Colorado. And the younger son, an engineer, just finished his first year at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.