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Longtime MED Mainstay Richard Egdahl Dies at 89

Pioneer in surgery, research, health policy

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Richard Egdahl

Richard Egdahl, a retired surgeon and educator, held many key leadership roles at MED. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Richard Egdahl, a nationally recognized endocrine surgeon, pioneering researcher, and force for change in national health policy, died in Naples, Fla., April 30 of complications from Parkinson’s disease. The medical entrepreneur, who had many leadership roles at the BU School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, was 89.

Egdahl was MED’s surgery department chair and chief of surgery at BU Medical Center (now part of Boston Medical Center) from 1964 to 1973, and was known for his emphasis on academic excellence and helping consolidate surgical services. A pioneer in surgical research, particularly the body’s response to injury, he was a MED associate dean for several years and created one of the nation’s first surgical laboratory fellowships. He retired as chair of surgery in 1973 to become director of the BU Medical Center and to develop the University’s Health Policy Institute.

His broad interests and expertise steered his career toward many aspects of health care delivery, from surgery to health care policy to managed care delivery to medical entrepreneurship. In recognition of his development of new technologies for managing care, in 1997 he was named the University’s first Alexander Graham Bell Professor in Health Care Entrepreneurship, a position he held until his retirement in 2010.

“Dick Egdahl was an accomplished surgeon, distinguished health policy researcher, committed educator, and strategic health care administrator,” says Karen Antman, dean of MED and provost of the Medical Campus. “A true visionary, he understood the critical role entrepreneurship would play in the evolving world of health care delivery. We will miss him.”

During his tenure as the University’s academic vice president for health affairs from 1973 to 1998, Egdahl founded the Health Policy Institute, a nationally focused think tank that brought together medical, government, and business leaders to create new strategies for improving the health care system. Publications from these meetings provided specific recommendations for new quality and management approaches, many of which were put into practice. His work with young physicians interested in business careers during those years reflected a lifelong role as a valued mentor and teacher.

Egdahl was born in Eau Claire, Wisc., in 1926, attended Dartmouth College, and graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1950. From 1951 to 1953 he served in the US Navy, first as chief medical officer on the USS Laertes during the Korean War. He then joined the staff of the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Md.

After completing his surgical training and a PhD in physiology at the University of Minnesota, Egdahl moved to the Medical College of Virginia as director of the surgical research labs. His research contributions on the hormonal response to injury were honored in 1962, when at age 36 he became the first surgeon to win the Endocrine Society CIBA Award. In 1964 he became James Utley Professor and Chair of Surgery at MED. He was named academic vice president in 1973, a position he held for 24 years, overseeing the School of Medicine, the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, Sargent College, the School of Social Work, and the School of Public Health. His duties also encompassed directing BU Medical Center.

After branching out into health policy, Egdahl worked with senior health officials in Washington, D.C., where he testified frequently on Capitol Hill and was a consultant to the President’s Advisory Council on Management Improvement. He also became the editor of a series of books and monographs on surgical practice and a second series on health care cost and quality initiatives, published by Springer-Verlag. He was a member of the editorial board of the New England Journal of Medicine from 1980 to 1993 and an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. He was the author of more than 300 publications in basic science, clinical practice, management, and health policy.

In 1987 Egdahl poured his impressive clinical, educational, and policy expertise into the creation of a new company, called Health Payment Review (HPR), which became the first company to provide insurance claims software that incorporated clinical knowledge to improve quality and reduce costs. HPR was sold in 1997 to HBOC, now part of McKesson Corporation.

“Richard Egdahl was a remarkable physician-scientist, educator, national health policy expert, and administrator,” says former colleague Aram Chobanian (Hon.’06), BU president emeritus, former dean of MED, provost of the Medical Campus, and MED professor of medicine. “He was a superb surgeon, and the quality of his research is illustrated by his being the first surgeon to be elected into the prestigious American Society of Clinical Investigation. Dick was truly an unusual individual whose eclectic interests led to major contributions in many important areas of medicine. His many friends at the University will be saddened by this loss.”

Egdahl is survived by his wife, Cynthia Taft, and four children from his marriage to the late Yvonne Egdahl: Scott Egdahl and David Egdahl of Boston, Bruce Egdahl of Boynton Beach, Fla., and Julie Egdahl of Santa Cruz, Calif. He also leaves four grandchildren, Allison, Brian, Eric, and Lauren Egdahl. At Egdahl’s request, there will be no memorial service.

3 Comments

3 Comments on Longtime MED Mainstay Richard Egdahl Dies at 89

  • Lisa on 05.05.2016 at 5:01 pm

    What a wonderful article. I am proud to say that I started my long BU career working for my sister-in-law Toni Doherty and the great Dr. Egdahl at the Health Policy Institute in 1978. What a brilliant, vibrant, kind and humble man he was. In the 5 years that I worked for him and HPI, I got to see the man in action–progressive research, health policy publications, held numerous health conferences all with a team of top-notch academics like Diana Chapman Walsh to name one. So many memories and of him, his role at the medical center, AVP for Health Affairs and our office at 53BSR…he was such a great asset to Boston University. Rest in peace RHE.

  • Dean Wilma Peebles-Wilkins on 05.05.2016 at 5:51 pm

    I am sorry to learn of the death of Dr. Richard Edghal, a man whom I had tremendous respect for. He was involved in my hire as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs for the School of Social Work in 1991. I reported to him after moving in the role of the deanship in 1993. He supported me through this transition and I attribute some of my success to him. Moving from the Research Triangle of North Carolina,at the time of my hire, I made a 10 year commitment to him, but remained at BU for 15 years. His contributions have not gone unnoticed.

  • Paulette Wein on 07.14.2016 at 11:59 am

    I was Dr. Egdahl’s assistant at BU Medical Center (both University Hospital and BU’s Health Policy Institute) in 1979-1991. What a wonderful boss, a warm, brilliant man. I just found out that he died. I wish I had written him a note late in his life; I would have told him how much I appreciated him taking the time to show interest in my life and my goals.

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