The impetus for the creation of a Health Division of the University of North Carolina developed during the middle and late 1940’s when the idea of a complete University Health Center to serve as the corner stone of a coordinated statewide health program became established throughout North Carolina. This vision was followed by farsighted legislative appropriations during 1945, 1947, and 1949 (with some additions during 1951) to make possible the expansion of the existing two-year School of Medicine to one of four years, to construct the necessary associated hospital facilities, and to establish new Schools of Nursing and Dentistry..
The Department of Medicine was formed in 1951 with the creation of the four-year medical school and with the appointment of the first chair, Dr. Charles Burnett. Originally a native of Colorado, he held a similar position at Southwestern Medical School, prior to coming to UNC. He served the Department and resigned as chair in 1964, but remained as Professor of Medicine. The 1963-1964 Department of Medicine Annual Report stated that the Department had a total of 44 faculty and 461 students and house staff; 8 training grants totaling $327,846; and 33 other grants totaling $579,672. Faculty had published 54 papers. Pressing needs and recommendations for the future, identified by Dr. Burnett, were space to recruit faculty in the areas of endocrinology and genetics and monies to increase salaries in order to remain competitive.
Dr. Louis G. Welt (1965-72) was the second chair for the Department, followed by Dr. Robert Ney (1972-80), Dr. David Ontjes (1981-89), and Dr. Fred Sparling (1989-00). Chairs were recruited internally. Thus the Department has enjoyed stability with a new chair approximately every decade.
Dr. Marschall S. Runge, the current chair, was hired in August 2000. He received his doctorate degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1984 and was previously director of the Sealy Center for Cardiology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.