August 13, 2004

An indelible legacy: Robinson remembered for great gifts to VUMC

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Roscoe R. “Ike” Robinson, M.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs, Emeritus, died Saturday. Photo by Donna Jones Bailey

An indelible legacy: Robinson remembered for great gifts to VUMC

Ann and Ike Robinson. Photo by Donna Jones Bailey

Ann and Ike Robinson. Photo by Donna Jones Bailey

Dr. Robinson and his long-time executive assistant Jane Tugurian share a lighter moment. File photo

Dr. Robinson and his long-time executive assistant Jane Tugurian share a lighter moment. File photo

Dr. Robinson smiles during one of the many graduations he attended during his career at Vanderbilt. File photo

Dr. Robinson smiles during one of the many graduations he attended during his career at Vanderbilt. File photo

Roscoe R. “Ike” Robinson, M.D., an internationally recognized physician and educator who led Vanderbilt University Medical Center through a period of tremendous growth and change during the 1980s and 1990s, died Saturday. He was 74.

Dr. Robinson, professor of Medicine and vice chancellor for Health Affairs, Emeritus, served from 1981 until 1997 as the chief executive and academic officer for all of Vanderbilt’s programs in health, including those of the Schools of Medicine and Nursing, the Vanderbilt Medical Group, Vanderbilt University Hospital, Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, the Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital, the Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital, and Vanderbilt Health Services.

Dr. Robinson died after suffering from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable, progressive lung disease, since 1998.

“Ike governed the Vanderbilt University Medical Center during the turbulent and uncertain times of the 1980s and 1990s with a combination of bold strategy, meticulous attention to detail and ‘country doctor’ personality,’” said Joe B. Wyatt, Chancellor Emeritus of Vanderbilt University. “But his often homespun persona could be displaced in a heartbeat by riveting rhetoric describing a cutting-edge area of medical research or a complex issue of medical care, always in a vocabulary tailored to his audience, whether medical professionals or community volunteers. He inspired, he explained and he cajoled — whatever it took to lead the vast constituency that needed persuasion to do what he was convinced needed to be done.”

Wyatt said that there was “complete trust” between him and Dr. Robinson as they worked together on Medical Center issues.

“If we disagreed, we did so privately until we could come to a mutual understanding or move on,” Wyatt said. “And never did a disagreement on one matter contaminate the discussion of another. Ike realized the value of our relationship to the progress of the Medical Center and the entire University as the medical sciences became more and more interdisciplinary and interdependent with the biological sciences, physics, chemistry and engineering. And Vanderbilt’s exhilarating progress, in all dimensions over the past two decades, can in large part be connected to the multi-faceted life and times of Ike Robinson.”

Dr. Robinson came to Vanderbilt in 1981 after more than two decades at Duke University Medical Center where he had served as the director of the division of Nephrology and the Florence McAlister Professor of Medicine. He also served for five years as associate vice president and Duke Hospital’s chief executive officer.

Under Dr. Robinson’s leadership at Vanderbilt, the Medical Center experienced phenomenal growth in its clinical and academic enterprises, its physical plant and its financial strength.

The medical and nursing faculties mushroomed from about 500 members in 1981 to more than 1,000 when he stepped down, constituting a wide spectrum of physicians, nurses, scientists and educators selected to enhance the VUMC missions of high standards in education, research and patient care.

“It is not easy to measure all that Ike Robinson accomplished during his 16 years as vice chancellor for Health Affairs at Vanderbilt,” said Harry R. Jacobson, M.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and Robinson’s successor. “The progress at the Medical Center during that time was remarkable. His leadership and guidance permitted the Medical Center to flourish, but Ike’s contributions stretch far beyond the confines of Vanderbilt. His contributions to nephrology, both nationally and internationally, and to academic medicine, will long be remembered.”

The VUMC skyline also took on new dimensions during the Dr. Robinson years. New faculty meant more specialty clinics and the need for more teaching and research space. Thus followed the multi-specialty Vanderbilt Clinic, Medical Research Building I (now the Robinson Research Building), Medical Research Building II (now the Preston Research Building), the Eskind Biomedical Library, the Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital, the Psychiatric Hospital at Vanderbilt, Medical Center East, and the Kim Dayani Health Promotion Center.

Dr. Robinson also supported the many changes in the focus of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, which for years was aligned academically with the University’s central campus. In 1984 it became a vital part of the Medical Center.

The financial picture also flourished. The Medical Center’s annual operating budget, nearly $160 million in 1981, was almost $800 million when Dr. Robinson retired. Annual fundraising increased from $8 million to $41 million during his tenure. There was a six-fold increase in grants and contracts.

But Dr. Robinson’s leadership wasn’t all about bricks and mortar, said Martha Ingram, chair of the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust.

“I have such very high regard for Ike Robinson,” Ingram said. “He helped build Vanderbilt University Hospital into the hospital of choice for the Middle Tennessee area. All of this has been accomplished in part, because of Ike’s dedication to his profession and his very likable personality. He accomplished these things not by pounding the table but by being so strong with his vision and having the personality to convince others of what needed to be done.”

David K. (Pat) Wilson, chairman of the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust from 1981 until 1991 and a former member of the Medical Center Board, worked with Dr. Robinson from his first year as vice chancellor. His leadership skills were impeccable, Wilson said.

“Ike gave Vanderbilt outstanding leadership,” Wilson said. “He laid a terrific foundation for the Medical Center and was a good and thoughtful friend. He made an outstanding contribution to the community.”

When he stepped aside in 1997, the Ann and Roscoe R. Robinson Chair in Nephrology was established by friends and supporters, and the Ann and Roscoe R. Robinson Medical Research Building (formerly MRB I) was named in his honor. In addition, a lectureship in his name was established by faculty, followed by the Ann and Roscoe R. Robinson Chair in Diabetes Clinical Research.

“The hands and face of Ike Robinson are clearly seen in the span of his leadership at Vanderbilt University Medical Center,” said Edward G. Nelson, of Nelson Capital Corp., former chairman of the Medical Center Board and a longtime member of the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust. “From his very first day, he made the first team All America rank for the development of medical education, the creation of the enormous infrastructure that has become Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the maintenance and improvement in the strong character of its medical and administrative staff and the building of a highly positive image of the Medical Center within the Nashville community. Along this trail, he created a wide range of friends, no enemies and just plain success.”

Dr. Robinson grew up in Oklahoma, the son of an educator who had studied in Nashville at George Peabody College and later served as president of Central State College, now known as the University of Central Oklahoma. He received his entire education in Oklahoma, including a medical degree from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine in 1954 as well as an honorary doctorate degree from the university in 1994.

Dr. Robinson had planned to leave Oklahoma for medical school. He had been accepted to Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, but decided to remain at home for financial reasons after the death of his father.

In 1952, he married Ann Allen, who has been an active participant in her husband’s career as well as a tireless worker for Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and other charities.

After medical school, Dr. Robinson obtained his residency training in internal medicine at Duke University Medical Center, followed by a research fellowship at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center before returning to Duke as director of the division of Nephrology, the Florence McAlister Professor of Medicine, and Associate Vice President for Health Affairs. Except for the research fellowship at Columbia-Presbyterian and a medical stint in the U.S. Air Force where he established the Air Force’s first hemodialysis unit, Dr. Robinson never left Duke between 1954, when he began his residency, and 1981 when he left to come to Vanderbilt. A Duke Lectureship in Nephrology was established in his honor.

“Ike was one of my favorite people,” said William G. Anlyan, M.D., Chancellor Emeritus at Duke, who saw Robinson progress from an intern, resident and chief resident to director of Nephrology to Duke University Hospital’s leader. “When it was time to pick a physician to head Duke University Hospital, I wanted someone who had the highest respect of clinicians at Duke. Ike was my number one candidate,” Anlyan said.

When Dr. Robinson left Duke after more than two decades, he became Anlyan’s peer at Vanderbilt.

“He had been wooed by a lot of other institutions who wanted him as their chairman of medicine, etc., but although I was sad to see him leave for Vanderbilt, I was glad he landed a top position I knew he would enjoy. Vanderbilt was lucky to have him.”

Robert D. Collins, M.D., John L. Shapiro Professor of Pathology and a 1951 graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, has witnessed dramatic changes in the Medical Center since joining the faculty in 1959, and has observed the comings and goings of all deans and vice chancellors since 1950.

“From the day Ike and Ann arrived in 1981, it was clear we had more than a chief executive officer disguised as a vice chancellor,” Collins said. “We had a chief academic officer, a distinguished academician in his own right, who gave us more than buildings — he gave us a sense of pride and purpose. During his tenure, clinical and research facilities doubled in size, but the growth in faculty was even more dramatic in terms of number and quality,” Collins said.

“These changes in buildings and faculty may be the most visible legacy of Ike Robinson, but more importantly the Robinsons have indelibly altered the way we view ourselves and our relationship to this community,” Collins said. “If I may be so presumptuous as to speak for the faculty, as a faculty member, I thank them for the warmth and collegiality here now as well as my pride in Vanderbilt.”

Jane Tugurian, Dr. Robinson’s assistant for 16 years at Vanderbilt, remembers him fondly.

“I can only talk about Ike Robinson and what he meant to me personally, and that is a whole lot,” Tugurian said. “I loved him as a boss, as a friend, and as an advisor and a counselor; I loved him for his humility and for the fact that he acted so tough and was such a softie; and I loved him because he was wonderful to me and to my entire family.”

Dr. Robinson was a member of the American Board of Internal Medicine and past chair of its Nephrology Board, a past president of the American Society of Nephrology, a past president of the International Society of Nephrology and the founding editor of Kidney International, the leading journal in Nephrology. He held that position for 13 years.

His awards are numerous. He received the prestigious John P. Peters Award of the American Society of Nephrology and the International Society of Nephrology’s Jean Hamburger Award for his contributions to national and international nephrology. He was a former editor of the section on kidney disease in Cecil’s Textbook of Medicine, and he served on the editorial boards of several medical journals.

He belonged to numerous academic and professional societies, including service on the National Advisory Council of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and as the National Consultant in Nephrology to the Surgeon General of the United States Air Force. He was a past president of the Society of Medical Administrators and past chair of the board of the Association of Academic Health Centers.

He was a past member of the board of directors of the National Kidney Foundation, the American Heart Association, the executive committee of the board of directors of Research!America, and the board of directors of the American Medical Association Foundation. He was the 2000 recipient of the Research!America National Advocacy Award for Sustained Leadership at the National Level.

Dr. Robinson was also a past trustee of Duke University, vice chair of the board of the Duke University Health System and a life trustee of Montgomery Bell Academy. He was a past member of the board of directors of Hospital Hospitality House, the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Fine Arts Center, the board of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and was a past chair of the United Way of Nashville and Middle Tennessee. He was a past member of the Board of Directors of ClinTrials Research Inc., Sun Health Inc., and the First American Corporation.

He was the author or co-author of 150 articles, most of which center around research interests in high blood pressure and diseases of the kidneys. He was the recent co-author of a history of the International Society of Nephrology: “The First Forty Years.”

Dr. Robinson is survived by his wife, Ann, of Nashville; two daughters, Brooke Robinson of Nashville and Susan (Mrs. John) Solberg of Baltimore, Md.; a sister, Lucy (Mrs. John) Hill of San Marcos, Texas; and two grandchildren, John Robinson Solberg and Sarah Allen Solberg.

A public memorial followed a private burial on Tuesday. Donations may be made to the Robinson Medical Student Scholarship Fund at Vanderbilt University Gift Processing, Vanderbilt University, P.O. Box 357727, Station B, Nashville, TN 37235-7727, or to the charity of the donor’s choice.

Friends, colleagues pay tribute to Robinson

Here is a gathering of recollections and tributes from some of the Vanderbilt people who knew Dr. Robinson.

I knew Ike Robinson for a good bit of my professional life. Twenty-five years ago, he published my first review article while editor of Kidney International — he claimed not to understand a word of it, but he thought the pictures were “nice.” Ike was like a big, loud teddy bear to most of us who knew him. He was quick to make you a friend and always remembered what you needed. Ike liked Krystal cheeseburgers almost as much as he liked to argue. He would bait you and if you didn’t take the bait, Ike called you names until you did — he was the light bulb in a room and everyone drew close. As a leader, he held everyone to high expectations. I think, though, he considered his most important task to keep hope alive. Ike had an authentic moral dignity and handled his terminal lung failure without self-pity — he once said to me with a twinkle, “The best part of my illness is I get to tell people they’re treating me with Viagra — isn’t that a hoot.” Ike Robinsons only come around once in a while, and it was a privilege to cross his life orbit. I am sure he never prayed for an easy life. I suspect he prayed to be a great person — and that he was.

— Eric G. Neilson, M.D., Hugh J. Morgan Professor and chair, department of Medicine

Ike had signature statements. For me, it was “OBEY”! ( You need to hear his bold, authoritative voice here.) Naturally, he knew I would do anything BUT obey, and that made working with him both realistic and a great deal of fun.

 — Lee E. Limbird, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology and former associate vice chancellor for Research

Through the leaders he recruited and the various resources he brought to bear, Ike Robinson changed both the physical and intellectual landscape at VUMC. I think it’s fair to say that when he arrived he found a school that was in some respects coasting on its reputation. The place had potential: it was a sleeping giant; he woke it and got it going. The institution we see today is in large part a reflection of Ike’s foundation-building in the1980s.

Ike was a friendly, helpful person with a staggeringly large personality. He had an engaging way of putting you at ease, putting a group at ease, with the words he spoke and the way he spoke them; he was incredible in that regard. He also had an amazing memory; you couldn’t sneak anything past him.

As a department chair I appreciated his leadership philosophy. He weighed decisions carefully, but once he decided to move, he always stayed the course and kept his commitments. He would carefully select leaders, give them resources, and trust them to know what to do. He didn’t micro-manage, and the school prospered under that kind of leadership.

— Daryl K. Granner, M.D., Joe C. Davis Professor of Biomedical Science and director of the Diabetes Center

There were many sides of Dr. Robinson. He was an absolute perfectionist and bossy. But he was also funny and gentle. He was anything but a self-described ‘country doctor’ because he was very in-charge of everything he was engaged in whether it was the operations of the Medical Center or the conversation you were having with him. He was also a father-figure. I always felt better knowing he was in his office or somewhere around the hospital or medical school instead of traveling somewhere lecturing because if there was trouble in the air, together we could work it out. Dr. Robinson was truly the smartest man I’ve ever known. He barked out my last name on many occasions and I jumped every time, even though we were close friends. When he saw me jump, he laughed, just like the day he did when he blasted his big long Oldsmobile car horn about three feet from me while I walked in to work. The car even came up over the curb and I ran in the bushes. And, he was quite an editor. You are now reading one of the extremely rare stories about Dr. Robinson that he did not personally edit. He used a red pen on everything, even quotes. As he would often tell people, I was honored to be in his company.

— Bill Hance, director of Medical Center News and Public Affairs

Ike was always interested in and supportive of what others were doing. He was a wealth of information, extremely well informed not only in his chosen areas of expertise but also in history, politics and sociology. He had the curiosity and taste that leads a person to learn the best, to travel to the best places and see the best things. Ike was a great raconteur and he could take jokes and give jokes with equal good humor. He was a wonderful friend, and I will miss him.

— John S. Warner, M.D., professor of Neurology, Emeritus

Ike Robinson was a big influence on my wife and me having an interest in the hospital. I met him first as a vendor operating parking at the Medical Center, and was very impressed with him. Sometime later we decided we wanted to make a major gift; it was not that big a gift, but Ike made us feel it was. The sensitivity and welcome with which he responded on behalf of Vanderbilt was probably a root cause of our growing involvement with the hospital.

Ike was a very sensitive person, but also a very strong person. I’ve seen him be effective in some of the most sensitive and heartbreaking circumstances, and I’ve also seen him come down on people. He expected people to perform. In the position he held, you simply can’t be a pussy cat on all occasions.

He was an excellent leader. Between problems with debt and morale, a lot of direction was needed at the medical center when he took over, and he provided that. I feel sincerely that Ike Robinson was one of the most important players in the history of Vanderbilt Medical Center.

— Monroe J. Carell Jr., Vanderbilt benefactor, chief executive officer of Central Parking Corporation

Ike is one of those people who really never met a stranger. He knew people, and he made friends easily. We were friends for almost 50 years. We met as residents at Duke, and in our group he was the best known and most popular, full of energy and friendliness. While he was covering another floor, he would find time to come over to my floor to see if he could give any help or advice. Ike could be kind of gruff when he needed to be, no question, but he was actually very kind; he may have sometimes talked as though he were overbearing, but he wasn’t.

I was chairman of the department of Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina before returning to Vanderbilt to do research in pulmonology. When Ike first approached me about a leadership position on his team, it didn’t fit with my plans, and I told him I wasn’t interested. But Ike wasn’t the type ever to give up, and, when I saw him again, he was so persuasive that I couldn’t say no.

When I later came to him with suggestions like starting a full-time emergency department and developing our own helicopter transport system, he said two words: “Do it.” That was a favorite phrase of his; if it was something he agreed with you on, he didn’t want to be bothered with details.

I think he was a great leader, and he made a lot of difference to our institution. Vanderbilt has long been an excellent teaching institution, but it was Ike who gave it real strength in research and patient care. He wanted it to be balanced in all three areas, and I think his success in leading VUMC in that direction has been the major factor in our institution’s subsequent success.

— Joseph C. Ross, M.D., associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs, Emeritus

Ike Robinson hired me in 1982, and I worked for him as hospital director for 15 years. What I remember most about Ike was his focus and his attention to detail. He had a vision of what VUMC could become, and he thought through every step of a plan to establish Vanderbilt as a top tier medical center. We made incredible progress under his leadership and I believe achieved his vision. On a personal level, Ike was a wonderful mentor to me. He always pushed me to do better, but did it with a great sense of humor. He would sometimes chide me for a less-than-desired performance with the challenge “Urmy! Do I have to do everything?” Since his retirement, he sometimes asked me about the latest Medical Center happenings. He loved our Medical Center and kept its success high on his list of interests. I’ll miss him.

— Norman B. Urmy, executive vice president for clinical affairs and chief executive officer of Vanderbilt University Hospital

I grew up under Ike’s wing, and his instincts and creativity made possible my career in biomedical informatics. He had foresight to appreciate by 1974 the role computers would play in medicine, seven years before the PC was named Time’s person of the year, and two decades before the World Wide Web. He had the flexibility to craft an individualized training program for me at Duke covering both nephrology and computer science without adding years to the process. During my fellowship, in each of our weekly meetings he would ask me what question I was answering. I would reply that I was developing a tool to let others answer questions. He never said that my approach was OK, but he let me follow my instincts.

We stayed in fairly close touch after he left Duke for Vanderbilt. Janet and I both viewed Ike as a quiet port in the storm, always there, always stable. I think all of his trainees felt and feel that way.

By 1990, I had tired of working within the Duke administrative structure to move the institution forward in biomedical informatics, and I had decided to go back and practice nephrology full time. Ike said I should come look at Vanderbilt. That invitation led ultimately to Ike’s helping us establish what is now recognized as the premier biomedical informatics program in the country.

Throughout it all, Ike was the best of mentors. I remember him saying “I want you to do what you want to do. I will help you with the big things. We may not be able to do it the way we want, but we will figure out a way.”

— William W. Stead, M.D., associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs and director of the Informatics Center

I was on the search committee that helped bring Ike Robinson to Vanderbilt. The word on Ike was that no one would be able to recruit him away from Duke, but the recommendations were so stellar, we thought we would interview him anyway. Ike was so different from all the others: sparkling personality, enthusiastic yet bright, and clearly a leader.

We couldn’t help ourselves: We recommended him for the job. For his last visit here before accepting the position, everyone in the Medical Center wore an “I like Ike” button. I think it was partly because of this enormous enthusiasm toward him that he came here, and to my knowledge that enthusiasm never waned.

Ike made it clear that every faculty member was valuable. While he was still making the transition to Vanderbilt, I accepted a position at the University of Pennsylvania. Ike heard about it, and one day he called me to his office here on campus, saying, “O’Neill, you and the committee were a strong influence on my decision to come to Vanderbilt. What is this I hear about you going to Penn?”

Ike’s personal touch, optimistic tone and absolutely outstanding character of leadership were evident to all. That is why so much building went on during his time here. Ike’s sense of optimism allowed him to take risks and to persuade the chancellor and the board to support him. And of course he was dead right.

— James A. O’Neill Jr., M.D., professor of Surgery, Emeritus and former director of the Section of Surgical Sciences

Ike Robinson was one of the giants in academic medicine. He epitomized the best tradition of Flexnerian vision by stressing and upholding the seminal value of basic sciences in medical education and in development of clinical disciplines including his beloved nephrology. His vision for Vanderbilt Medical Center attracted Ania and me, and then my new faculty, to come here and build “the state of the science” department of Microbiology and Immunology. His personal example of total and unfettered commitment to excellence strengthened our love toward Vanderbilt and its community. Ike evoked the sense of continuity and in a certain way capped the era of science-based medical teaching and practice pioneered at Vanderbilt by Canby Robinson. As a passionate military historian, Ike inspired my youngest son, Adam, to study the history of Napoleonic wars. He and Ann touched our lives in a tender and meaningful way.

— Jacek J. Hawiger, M.D., Ph.D., Oswald T. Avery Distinguished Professor and chair of the department of Microbiology and Immunology

Since I did not arrive at Vanderbilt until 1992, I have always considered myself one of Ike’s kids. Through his larger than life persona, he played three roles in my Vanderbilt life: boss, mentor and father. It is still embarrassing to confess how naive I was as a chair being recruited to the outstanding Biochemistry department here at Vanderbilt. … Ike played the fatherly role of telling what else I should put in my letter of demands. Ike was more committed to making VMS and VUMC the best they possibly could be than anyone I have known in my 12 years here. We are where we are today because of Ike’s ability to lead and to inspire leadership by others. He was the right man at the right time for all of us. I had the good fortune to speak with him recently on the telephone. His voice was booming, and there was enthusiasm in every word. What a remarkable man!

— Michael R. Waterman, Ph.D., Natalie Overall Warren Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and chair of the department

Ike was a Renaissance person and a true visionary who looked beyond traditional nursing and saw a vision for the School of Nursing at the master’s and doctoral levels as a full partner with the School of Medicine in the Medical Center. He always supported me personally and professionally. I remember when I called to tell him that Ted and I were getting married (six months after I was recruited to Vanderbilt); he never missed a beat and said “Well, I’m not losing a dean — I’m gaining a developer.”

— Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., dean, School of Nursing

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s star rose and began to shine when Ike Robinson accepted the position as vice chancellor for Health Affairs. During his reign, Vanderbilt progressed from a strong Southern medical center to national recognition as one of the best in the United States.

 … What a wonderful opportunity it was for me to work as director of the section of Surgical Sciences and chief of the department of Surgery under his leadership. He was always supportive of plans to develop the surgical departments. … I remember many meetings in Ike’s living room on Sundays with Gene Fowinkle discussing plans to implement a liver transplant program. Ike’s administrative abilities and wise counsel made this program a success. There are many more events related to the development of the surgical departments that occurred because of Ike’s leadership — trauma service, helicopter service, emergency department, establishment of the division of organ transplantation, ambulatory surgery, dental department, and breast clinic to mention a few.

 It was an inspiring experience to work with Ike. He liked to say when people retired, “Vanderbilt is a much better place since he/she (the retiree) passed our way.” It couldn’t be more true or appropriate that Vanderbilt University Medical Center is better, much better in all ways, because Ike Robinson passed our way. He will be sorely missed by his many friends and colleagues.

— John L. Sawyers, M.D., professor of Surgery, Emeritus

Vanderbilt is exceedingly fortunate that Ike Robinson invested his considerable talents in this institution. Ike understood excellence. He developed and promoted it in all of the dimensions of the Medical Center’s functions, building it to a leading position among the world’s medical institutions. I was privileged to be a Chair during the Robinson era. Ike was one of those rare individuals who inspire both admiration and deep affection.

— John A. Oates, M.D., professor of Medicine and Pharmacology, chair of the department of Medicine, Emeritus

The Robinson Years

The 16 years from 1981 to 1997, when Ike Robinson ran VUMC, were perhaps as formative as any in the Medical Center’s history. Here’s a rundown of the growth and achievements of the Robinson years.

Medical and nursing school faculties grew from about 450 members in 1981 to more than 1,000 by 1997. Grants and contracts in support of research grew from $20 million per year to $120 million, and outpatient visits grew from about 165,000 to almost 500,000.

The VUMC annual operating budget grew from $160 million to $800 million and annual fund raising increased from $8 million to $41 million. The number of permanently endowed chairs at VUMC rose from 10 to 50.

By the time of Robinson’s departure, U.S. News and World Report had ranked Vanderbilt 14th among 125 American medical schools, and had ranked the hospital as the best in Tennessee.

In 1997 the medical school ranked number one in student satisfaction, and four of VUMC’s basic science departments ranked in the top 10 among counterpart departments in 125 medical schools across the country.

The VUMC physical plant grew more in the Robinson years than in the previous 50 years. The building projects included The Vanderbilt Clinic, Medical Research Building I (now the Robinson Research Building), Medical Research Building II (now the Preston Research Building), Eskind Biomedical Library, Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital, the Psychiatric Hospital at Vanderbilt, Medical Center East, and the Kim Dayani Center.

Over a five-year period in the mid 1990s, under the leadership of Norman Urmy, Vanderbilt University Hospital cut expenses by $50 million, resulting in lower costs and charges to patients.

Robinson oversaw the establishment of the Vanderbilt Medical Group, Tennessee’s largest physician-led, multi-specialty group practice.

Robinson also changed the focus of the School of Nursing, the School became part of the Medical Center in 1984.