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About the department. Training future leaders, advancing discoveries, caring compassionately.

Black and white photo collage of founders with title Our Founders

FROM LEFT: Dr. Charles Burnette (inaugural chair and nephrologist), Dr. Thomas Barnett (pulmonary medicine), Dr. Ernest Craige (cardiology), Dr. William Cromatie (infectious disease), Dr. Thomas Farmer (neurology), Dr. Jeffress Palmer (hematology), Dr. John Sessions (gastroenterology)

Photo collage of previous leaders; Current Chair is Ronald Falk, MD

Department Chairs

  • Dr. Charles Burnett, 1951-1964
  • Dr. Louis G. Welt, 1965-1972
  • Dr. Robert Ney, 1972-1980
  • Dr. David Ontjes, 1981-1989
  • Dr. Fred Sparling, 1989-2000
  • Dr. Marshall S. Runge, 2000-2014
  • Dr. Ronald Falk, 2015-present
Dr. Cromartie instructs students in MacNider Hall

Dr. Cromartie in MacNider Hall

1951 – 1964

By 1964, Dr. Burnette’s last year as chair, the Department had grown to 44 faculty and 461 students and house staff who had obtained eight training grants totaling $327,846 and 33 research grants totaling $579,672. Pressing needs and recommendations for the future were to expand space, recruit faculty in endocrinology and genetics, and increase salaries to remain competitive.

Dr. W.B. Blythe and Dr. Margaret Newton demonstrate use of the artificial kidney

Dr. W.B. Blythe and Dr. Margaret Newton

1964 – Today

Since then, the Department has continued to grow, now comprising more than 465 faculty and 200+ trainees who work across 12 Divisions and 11 Centers. The Department has educated more than 9,000 medical students and trained approximately 3,500 residents and 1,500 fellows, including leaders across academia, industry, and clinical practice. Faculty members have made seminal discoveries that have shaped our understanding of various diseases, including in acute rheumatic fever, hemophilia, HIV/AIDS, ANCA vasculitis, and cystic fibrosis, to name a few. The Department has also cared for several million North Carolinians, starting during the polio epidemic and extending through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paul Godley, MD, PhD, MPP

Dr. Paul Godley

As the Department has grown it has become increasingly diverse. Key trailblazers include:

  • Dr. Janet Fisher (first female Professor of Medicine)
  • Dr. Paul Godley (first African American Professor of Medicine)
  • Dr. Ada Adimora (first female African American Professor of Medicine)

In 2020, Dr. Keisha Gibson was appointed inaugural Vice Chair of Diversity and Inclusion.


The Department has a long and enduring commitment to teaching medical students, residents, and fellows, displayed in two historical publications. Dr. Charles Burnette’s The Residency II, recognized the educational responsibilities of a university teaching hospital while Dr. Bill Mattern’s The Attending Physician as Teacher, validated specific recommendations to help attending physicians improve instruction.
Altogether, the Department has educated approximately 9,000 medical students, 3,500 residents and 1,500 fellows, as well as leaders in academia, industry, and practice, including Francis Collins (Director of National Institutes of Health and Human Genome Project) and Peter Agre (Winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry).

The Department also has a long history of educating health professionals across the state, including through the Area Health and Education Center (AHEC), which the Department helped found, providing education and services focused on primary care in rural communities and those with less access to resources to recruit, train, and retain the workforce needed to create a healthy North Carolina.


Early faculty members set the foundation for highly productive research programs. Over time, this evolved markedly, with a steady growth of new faculty and the physical expansion of resources to support scientific activities. The Department’s research continues with basic, translational, clinical, health services, and epidemiological research that impacts the delivery of care and reinforces the great joy and responsibility of helping advance the field of medicine.

Some key contributions have included:

Cardiology: pioneering research in echocardiography, as well as development of guidelines for assessing cardiovascular risk and treating hypertension, cholesterol abnormalities, and acute coronary syndromes.

Endocrinology: defining new approaches to treating diabetes, elucidating the role of growth hormone and IGF-1 in controlling insulin sensitivity, and understanding how mechanical forces affect the skeleton.

Gastroenterology: elucidating the role of the microbiome in intestinal inflammation, outlining clinical characteristics and treatment approaches to functional gastrointestinal disorders, and clarifying the epidemiology of gastrointestinal diseases, as well as the basic mechanisms and clinical therapeutics for viral hepatitis.

General Internal Medicine: notable contributions to clinical epidemiology, evidence-based medicine, patient reported outcome measurement, healthcare disparities, and social determinants of health.

Hematology: seminal research that defined red blood cell physiology, as well as coagulation in health and disease.

Infectious Diseases: early research that defined the role of streptococcal cell wall fragments in acute rheumatic fever, as well as innumerable contributions to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of HIV/AIDS.

Nephrology: seminal work that helped define renal physiology, fluid and electrolyte disorders, autoimmune kidney disease, and ANCA vasculitis.

Oncology: international leadership in cancer clinical trials, translational science, and health services research, with development of major cancer drugs and patient-centered care models at UNC.

Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine: among various accomplishments, the Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine has been an international leader in cystic fibrosis and primary ciliary dyskinesia.

Rheumatology, Allergy & Immunology: most notably understanding the pathogenesis, epidemiology, and clinical outcomes of osteoarthritis.

Patient Care

Across the years, the Department has cared for more than three million patients with acute and chronic diseases in various care settings, including infectious diseases epidemics (poliomyelitis epidemic, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDs, and the COVID-19), while spanning remarkable progress in diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic, autoimmune, renal and gastrointestinal conditions. During this time, the Department’s clinical services have steadily grown to serve more than 120,000 patients annually in hospitals, clinics, and procedural units located in 20-plus cities across the state. Throughout, the Department has maintained its commitment to serve all North Carolinians, including the sickest and most vulnerable.