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Celebration honors Paul Sternberg’s decades of service

Jun. 22, 2023, 8:18 AM

Paul Sternberg Jr., MD, center, with C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, left, and Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, at a recent celebration honoring Sternberg’s years of service to VUMC.
Paul Sternberg Jr., MD, center, with C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, left, and Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, at a recent celebration honoring Sternberg’s years of service to VUMC. (photo by Erin O. Smith)

by Nancy Humphrey

Surrounded by family, friends and colleagues, Paul Sternberg Jr., MD, was celebrated last week at a retirement ceremony honoring his 20 years of service to Vanderbilt University Medical Center as chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and founding director of the Vanderbilt Eye Institute (VEI).

Sternberg, who will continue to see patients, is also stepping down on June 30 as Chief Medical Officer for the Vanderbilt Medical Group, associate dean for Clinical Affairs in the School of Medicine and Chief Patient Experience Officer for VUMC.

Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and CEO of VUMC and Dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, announced at the gathering that Sternberg will become the Medical Center’s first Medical Director for Development and will be tasked with working with clinical chairs to grow the grateful patient fundraising program.

Sternberg created the VEI shortly after he arrived in Nashville in 2003 as G.W. Hale Professor of Ophthalmology and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. He helped raise money to build the facility that opened in 2008 and has remained its director throughout his service as chair, leading a multiyear philanthropic effort that has resulted in a remarkable legacy — a permanent endowment of more than $50 million. Sternberg has raised a total of $100 million for VUMC over the past 20 years.

“As an accomplished administrator, it’s likely that Paul’s most profound innovation has been the Vanderbilt Eye Institute,” Balser said. “He is the father of VEI. Before Paul, there was no Eye Institute. Paul dedicated himself to not only establishing the Eye Institute but leveraging his resources to build a timeless resource for Vanderbilt — a cohort with capable faculty who are or have been supported by permanent endowment and will lead ophthalmology for decades both at VUMC and at institutions across the country.”

Balser said that Sternberg “cares deeply about relationships with people. People resonate with his empathy,” and he acknowledged the “deep commitment” of both Sternberg and his wife, Gloria, to the culture of VUMC. “Paul and Gloria work as a team, and Paul’s voice in these matters often reflects Gloria’s voice as well. Paul and Gloria, together you have made the world a better place by making VUMC a better place. We owe you a great debt of gratitude.”

Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Health System Officer for VUMC, thanked Sternberg for his service and also acknowledged Gloria’s role as a “key player” in Sternberg’s career at VUMC.

“Paul has always been a strategic thinker pondering 10 steps down the road, planning and considering the next steps. His commitment to our institution is truly second to none, and his earnest interest in doing the very best work, whatever the task may be, is what has defined the many roles and responsibilities he’s taken on through the years for all of us. Paul has consistently led with his eye on quality as well as strategic growth.”

Finally, an emotional Sternberg thanked Gloria, his VEI “family” and the many colleagues he has worked with along the way.

“It’s a bit surreal to be surrounded by so many colleagues and friends who have made my two decades here such a meaningful and rich experience. I’ve been so fortunate through my personal and professional life to be enriched by you in so many ways,” he said.

“It’s been an extraordinary privilege to serve you and this Medical Center for 20 years. We’ve accomplished a lot and have had an amazingly good time along the way.”

Donors and friends also gathered on May 4 at the Noah Liff Opera Center to honor Sternberg and his leadership of the VEI. Sternberg credited VEI’s advisory board and philanthropic partners as instrumental in its growth over the last 20 years.

“You believed in our vision, you were willing to support us when it was just a vision, and you helped me transform the Eye Clinic into the Eye Institute,” Sternberg said. “Your guidance and support have resulted in 20 new directorships and chairs, important developments in innovative research, and a lifechanging impact on patients. To carry this momentum forward, the community is committed to a new challenge: to raise $10 million that will further elevate VEI in the years ahead.”

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