The ‘Surgeon General’ for Duke Students

John Vaughn oversees health care for all Duke students

John Vaughn, left, the director of Duke Student Health Services, talks with a registered dietician in his department, Kate Sayre. The staff uses fake food during conversations with students to show how to plan out balanced, nutritious meals. Photo by Apr
John Vaughn, left, the director of Duke Student Health Services, talks with a registered dietician in his department, Kate Sayre. The staff uses fake food during conversations with students to show how to plan out balanced, nutritious meals. Photo by Apr

Name: Dr. John VaughnPosition: Director of Duke Student Health Services; associate professor of Community and Family MedicineYears at Duke: 1What I do at Duke: My responsibilities are to oversee the health care for all Duke students. That includes providing direct, individual health care – students make appointments and come see us at the Student Health Center.  But it’s also overseeing the overall health of the entire campus.  We ensure that students have received all of the immunizations they need to go to school here; we make sure they can get their flu shots every year; we keep an eye on illnesses that can be communicable and advise faculty, staff and students.  As someone described my job, I’m the surgeon general for Duke students. I’m responsible for working with other doctors in the health center and employee health, even the Durham health department, to monitor those types of things and maintain a healthy campus environment. My first ever job: I was a DJ assistant when I was in eighth grade. I became a DJ myself after a couple of years. (A song he’d always play is “What I Like About You” by The Romantics. He’d end the night with Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”) My dream job: An English professor/faculty physician at a school of medicine where I could write and publish but then teach, work with medical students about the art of narrative in medical practice. What I love about Duke: The students. My favorite part of the week is when I actually get to see students in the clinic when I work as a doctor. The students I’ve met have consistently been pleasant, respectful, so smart, doing so many amazing things. If I could have one superpower, it would be: Super speed like The Flash so I could get anywhere in the world in five seconds. There’s just not enough time to travel the world like I’d like. An interesting day at work for me: All the various medical departments have grand rounds at which they invite someone to come speak on a topic. The Pediatrics department invited me to come do a grand rounds presentation on college health. I think that was a memorable moment for me because it let me present my vision of how higher education and medicine can work together to make innovative changes in how health care is delivered.  One of the reasons I came to Duke is that student health is considered an active participant in the medical community as well as the university community. The positive reception I received at those grand rounds confirmed that I came to the right place. Music I like: Springsteen. My cousin had made me a tape of “Born to Run,” and I was like 5 years old and I’ve been listening to Springsteen ever since. My wife and I even used one of his songs for our wedding song (“If I Should Fall Behind”). My biggest pet peeve: People coming to you with problems and not having an idea for a solution. Something unique in my office: My father was a professor of classics. I’m actually a first-generation American. My mother was born in Rome. My father was teaching at the American Academy in Rome for a year, so I lived in Rome for a year when I was three. My grandfather knew the head of the Vatican Library, so my father got to go on a private tour of the Vatican Library. This is a map of ancient Rome on my office wall that is not publicly displayed; it’s in the Vatican archive. The head of the Vatican Library made a copy of it to give to my father.  It hung in his office for many years, and when I came down here to Duke, my mother gave it to me.