Anthony J. Viera, M.D., MPH, professor of community and family medicine, began his new role as chair of the Department of Community and Family Medicine on Oct. 1. He came to Duke from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and held appointments as adjunct professor in the Department of Epidemiology and in the Public Health Leadership Program.
Viera is a nationally-recognized researcher focused on cardiovascular disease prevention with a special interest in hypertension and out-of-office blood pressure monitoring. He is also interested in behavioral economics as a strategy to promote healthful eating and physical activity. Viera has published nearly 200 articles, book chapters, monographs and books. Recognized as a fellow of the American Heart Association, he has been the principal investigator on numerous grants from the NIH and other funding agencies. He also has played an active role in the education of medical students, residents and fellows.
Just days into his new role at Duke, Viera answered a few questions about himself and his vision for the department.
Where did you grow up and what led you to a career in medicine?
I grew up in Bamberg, S.C., a small town about an hour south of Columbia. It was very rural! Ever since I was a boy I wanted to be a doctor. I envisioned myself being a simple country doctor — much like Dr. Baker on “Little House on the Prairie,” driving my horse and buggy to houses and taking care of the families. Or like Bones from “Star Trek.” They were two of my favorite country doctors.
Turns out family medicine really aligned with my boyhood notion of country doctor or “Star Trek” doctor. Because if you’re on the Star Ship Enterprise you don’t know what’s going to come at you. You have to be able to deliver a baby — could be an alien baby! — or take care of an infectious disease, or repair a laceration, or set a bone, or comfort a dying patient, all while remaining attentive to trying to prevent bad health outcomes, right?!
How long have you lived in the area?
Since 2004. After spending 1996-2004 in the Navy I moved to Chapel Hill to do the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program (which landed me at UNC), and then I joined the faculty at UNC in 2006.
Tell me about your family and your interests outside of work.
I have two amazing daughters — Kaitlyn is 22 and is a social work student at UNC, and Kristen is a first-year student at Meredith College. We think her goal is to save the planet. I like to play acoustic guitar — I’m 99 percent self-taught, and I probably have plateaued, but it’s fun! I like to exercise regularly, cook (and eat!), and travel. I like to pause to think about the awe in things, like the moon or a seahorse. And I like practically all kinds of movies and cool TV shows, but probably sci-fi and superheroes are my favorite.
Moving to your vision for the department, how would you like to build on the department’s 50-plus year history?
When I think about the legacy of this department I think about its development of ties to the community in order to improve the health of the people living here. I also think about the family medicine residency being a rigorous program that grew up in a place that is largely specialty-driven. And I think about us having the oldest and best physician assistant program in the country, and about the strong history in occupational and environmental health practice and research. We have to continue to build on these strengths, capitalize on the opportunities we have because of the unique combination of what exists here, and think about what we can do to stay on the cutting edge, all while meeting the needs of the health care workforce in the future.
What types of new programs could you see potentially launching in the department?
We definitely want to grow the department’s research and will do that through a combination of bringing in new people, establishing programs within the department, and collaborating across departments and with others at Duke to “grow our own” researchers. We want to identify people who have a research interest, and then cultivate it and help them grow and learn and develop.
We will also be expanding our family medicine residency. Program Director Viviana Martinez-Bianchi and I have talked about many exciting possibilities and are exploring some exciting new ventures. Many key partners will be working with us as we move forward. We will also expand our clinical enterprise and work with health system leaders to develop new models of primary care and offering of primary care services. Both family medicine residency graduates and physician assistant program graduates are critically important to growing our Duke Health workforce.
And then I want to encourage development of new community health initiatives. What can we do to tackle social determinants of health? How do we best work with the community now and in the future to improve the health of people in Durham County and the surrounding areas?
I also want to increase diversity in our department and make sure we are helping all faculty and staff to develop their careers. Everyone wants to learn and grow, and we want to create an environment in which all can thrive.
When you talk about bringing more research in, what areas of research do you see the department focusing on?
Because we are a “generalist” department, and we have faculty members with lots of interests, I think that we don’t need to limit to certain topics. Rather, we are looking broadly for researchers whose work fits within the department’s mission. I think the main thing is to identify and attract talented faculty members and then help them develop as independent researchers in collaboration with others across Duke.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Just that I am extremely excited to be here, to be able to serve and support an amazing group of talented faculty and staff at one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers.