August 30, 2010

Emory veteran takes helm of Woodruff Health Sciences Center

Wright Caughman

Wright Caughman can diagnose a melanoma or diagram a sentence with equal precision. The newly appointed interim executive vice president for health affairs, CEO of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center, and chairman of Emory Healthcare is a dermatologist by training, but he began his career as a high school English teacher in his hometown of Columbia, S.C.

A graduate of Davidson College, Caughman left teaching to pursue a medical degree at the Medical University of South Carolina. He completed his residency at Harvard Medical School, where he served as chief resident in dermatology. He jokes that those who know him today might not have recognized him as a medical student. “I looked more like Trapper John or Hagrid the half-giant of Harry Potter fame, with a full beard and a full head of long wiry brown hair,” he says.

As his hairstyle has evolved, so have his career aspirations. After serving as medical officer and principal investigator in the dermatology branch of the National Cancer Institute, Caughman moved his family to Atlanta and joined the Emory faculty in 1990. In the past 20 years, he has served Emory as chair of the Department of Dermatology, director of The Emory Clinic, and vice president for clinical and academic integration, in addition to his duties as a physician and a researcher.

After two decades in the health sciences at Emory, he knows what Emory does better than anyone else and he knows what could be done better. He sees the changing environment as a context for positive energy – an opportunity to re-examine old ways of thinking and doing things and to embrace new ideas that will propel the health sciences to new levels of success.

“After all,” he says, “we’d rather lead change than have it happen to us.”

Caughman is eager to begin the latest iteration of his service to Emory when he assumes his new role on Sept. 1, and he doesn’t let the pressure of his new position get to him. “I try to find humor and laughter every day,” he says. “A day without it is likely a wasted opportunity to enjoy life and the people around you.”

And it’s those people who make his work at Emory so rewarding. “I really appreciate and value all the people who make Emory great,” he says. “I still look forward to coming here every day, and I’m excited to work together to address the challenges and opportunities before us.”

Caughman and Alison, his wife of nearly 37 years (who taught math at the same high school in Columbia) have three adult children — Shirah, Stewart and Christopher. In addition to his new role here at Emory, the Caughmans recently embarked on another new venture — grandparenthood — when their granddaughter Helen was born in New York City on Aug. 6.

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