The New Dean: Katrina Armstrong, MD

VP&S Alumni Describe an “Inspirational,” “Transformational,” “Empathetic” Leader

The route Katrina Armstrong took from her teenage years in Alabama to her appointment as dean of the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and chief executive officer of Columbia University Irving Medical Center has been filled with eye-opening first impressions.

Shortly after moving to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, from Buffalo, where snow is a normal part of winter, she learned that just a bit of snow in the South can close school for a week. She learned that the hard way after waiting at the school bus stop for three hours. At Johns Hopkins, she interviewed for medical school on the day of a heavy snowfall. She was unable to find a taxi, so her interviewer gave her a lift to the train station—then mailed back the gloves she left in his car, along with a handwritten note. Her first day as chair of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital was the day of the Boston Marathon bombing, and she saw the best that academic medicine has to offer. “The energy changed across the hospital, people stood up, and everyone came together to take on the challenge.”

Dr. Armstrong didn’t have to wait until her March 1, 2022, start date to develop an impression of Columbia’s academic medicine enterprise. “The scientific mission of this institution, this campus, is unparalleled,” she said in a February interview. “Everywhere I turn is a scientist advancing how we understand disease, biology, health. My initial experience has been truly overwhelming in terms of the incredible talent that exists across this campus, across the university, on every level.”

Photograph by Jörg Meyer.

What she wants to happen next is her signature passion: “The commitment to having an impact in our community needs to be grounded in the values that we have a responsibility to ensure that our scientific and medical advances reach everyone.” Her passion for health equity stems from those years in Alabama, where she saw the effects of structural inequity and divisions in race, economics, and urban vs. rural. “It was one of the most formative parts of my journey. It has driven everything that I’ve done since. It proved the adage that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not.”

Her commitment to moving medicine forward is equally at the forefront of her aspirations for academic medicine. “Too many people still die of cancer. We have to constantly be driving these fields forward to make a difference in Alzheimer’s, in any form of neurological disease, in our basic ability to prevent the complications of diabetes, how we ensure children stay healthy. There’s so much to do.

“We have a social responsibility to be thinking about how care should be done, where should we go. As soon as somebody has a family member who’s sick, you understand that so deeply, because you just want them to have the best possible chance.”

Katrina Armstrong at a welcome assembly Feb. 28. Photograph by Bruce Gilbert.

Dr. Armstrong joined Columbia, CUIMC, and VP&S after eight years at Mass General, where she was the first woman to chair the Department of Medicine. At Columbia, she is the first woman to serve as dean of VP&S and CEO of the medical center.

Her role at Mass General followed 17 years at the University of Pennsylvania, where she rose through the ranks from physician scientist fellow to full professor with leadership roles as chief of general internal medicine, associate director of the cancer center, co-director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars program, and director of research at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.

At Mass General from 2013 until earlier this year, Dr. Armstrong led a department that records 1.2 million ambulatory visits annually, and she oversaw the work of 2,000 faculty, residents, and fellows in 10 clinical divisions and 11 research units. She also oversaw the department’s educational programs in undergraduate and graduate medical education. She was a faculty member in Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Katrina Armstrong, MD

BORN: New Haven, Connecticut, but raised mostly in Alabama


  • BA, Architecture, Yale University
  • MD, Johns Hopkins University
  • MS, clinical epidemiology, University of Pennsylvania


  • Internal Medicine Resident, Johns Hopkins
  • Chief Resident, Medicine, Johns Hopkins
  • Physician Scientist Fellow, General Internal Medicine, University of Pennsylvania


  • Clinical faculty, Medicine, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, 1994-1995
  • University of Pennsylvania, 1998-2013. Titles ranged from assistant professor of medicine and assistant professor of biostatistics and epidemiology to professor of medicine and professor of obstetrics & gynecology. She also was chief of general internal medicine, associate director of the Abramson Cancer Center, co-director of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program, and director of research at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.
  • Jackson Professor of Clinical Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Physician-in-Chief of Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, and Professor of Epidemiology at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard, 2013-2022 (member of Board of Trustees at Massachusetts General since 2017)

ELECTED MEMBER: National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Association of American Physicians, and the American Society for Clinical Investigation

CURRENT EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Journal of the American Medical Association

KNOWN FOR: She is an internationally recognized investigator in medical decision making, quality of care, and cancer prevention and outcomes, an award-winning teacher, and a practicing primary care physician. She has conducted innovative research that has helped transform understanding of cancer, genomics, and health care disparities. She has identified ways to improve cancer care using observational data, modeling, and personalized medicine. Her work has focused on cancer risk and prevention in Black and Latinx patients, examined racial inequities in genetic testing and neonatal care, and analyzed the roles that segregation, discrimination, and distrust play in the health of marginalized populations. Her most recent research studied disparities in rural areas and include partnerships with Lakota tribal communities and organizations in western South Dakota.

AWARDS: Outstanding Junior Investigator of the Year Award from the Society of General Internal Medicine, Outstanding Investigator Award from the American Federation of Medical Research, and the Alice Hersh Award from Academy Health

FAMILY: Husband Tom Randall, MD,
a gynecologic oncologist, and three
adult children

At Columbia, her formal titles are Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical Sciences, Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Chief Executive Officer of Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and the Harold and Margaret Hatch Professor in the Faculty of Medicine.

In announcing Dr. Armstrong’s appointment, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger described her contributions to academic medicine. “As a leader in academic medical education and leadership, Dr. Armstrong has prioritized advancements that strengthen patient-centered care, promote innovative educational programs, and support advancement for junior faculty.”

VP&S alumni who have worked with Dr. Armstrong at Mass General reinforce the contributions she made there and envision what VP&S might look like under her leadership.

David F.M. Brown’89, president of Massachusetts General Hospital and the Trustees Professor of Emergency Medicine at Harvard Medical School, called Dr. Armstrong an extraordinary and inspirational leader whose tenure as chief of medicine at MGH was marked by remarkable growth in all aspects of the mission. “She restructured the teaching service, enhanced mentorship for clinicians and scientists, and expanded our commitment to diversity and health equity in tangible ways. Her impact here will be felt for years to come and I am sad to lose easy access to a dear friend, confidant, and inspiration but am also thrilled for VP&S to have recruited such a transformative leader.”

Meghan Sise’09, assistant professor of medicine and a nephrologist at MGH, described Dr. Armstrong’s commitment to the career development of trainees and junior faculty. “She established numerous mentoring programs, networking opportunities, and novel funding opportunities to support junior investigators at MGH. Her brilliance and vision are balanced with her approachable and lighthearted nature, making her an empathic and inspiring leader.”

Hank Kronenberg’70, professor of medicine at Harvard and former chief of the endocrine division at Mass General: “Like all P&S graduates I know at MGH, I’m jealous! Katrina Armstrong has a way of imaginatively restructuring organizations to bring out the best in people. P&S is quite different from when I was there, but every organization can use some shaking up. Katrina will do that, but gently and always with a smile!”

Christiana A. Iyasere’02, executive director of the MGH Department of Medicine Innovation Program, said Dr. Armstrong’s pragmatic and inspirational leadership style will be missed at MGH. “I worked closely with Dr. Armstrong over the past five years to create a successful platform for investment in promising translational science in the Department of Medicine. Through that relationship I can attest to her energy, enthusiasm, and dedication to the practice of medicine and the research community that moves the field forward. Katrina worked to elevate the careers and opportunities for women and was a staunch advocate for creating a more inclusive and diverse community for both clinicians and our patients. She emphasized the importance of collaboration and community in times of adversity and led us through the unchartered waters of the COVID pandemic.”

Jules L. Dienstag’72, the Carl W. Walter Professor of Medicine at Harvard, called Dr. Armstrong a transformational leader who brought a new paradigm of exciting and creative engagement to her role as chair of medicine. “She gave so much of herself and modeled for us the important message that being a good doctor, physician scientist, and/or leader has to be grounded in being a good person. Never before had we seen a Department of Medicine chair so engaged at a very personal and individual level with our many divisions and with our faculty. She was exactly the right person for our time, and one of her most indelible and visible legacies was her enlightened, effective leadership of our department, hospital, and medical school through an unprecedented pandemic.”

Jonathan Rosand’94, holder of the J.P. Kistler (VP&S’64) Endowed Chair in Neurology at Mass General and a Columbia University Trustee, says Dr. Armstrong’s values are clear to all who work with her. “Shortly after Dr. Armstrong had arrived at Mass General, I admitted a patient whom I knew would benefit from a visit from her. Despite having had few interactions with Dr. Armstrong, I picked up the phone and left a message with her office. By afternoon she was at the patient’s bedside. Touching base with me on her way off the ward, she was grateful for my having called, grateful for having been given an opportunity to help a patient in need. Dr. Armstrong embraces the central role that trust plays in our excelling as healers, scientists, staff, and colleagues working side-by-side. It is hard not to link this value, along with her boundless intellectual curiosity and engagement, to the astonishing range of new collaborations and initiatives launched under her watch, from physician well-being to health care disparities to genomic medicine to transformational research partnerships.”

Stefanie Gerstberger’19, a third-year internal medicine resident at Mass General, says: “I’m so excited that she is coming to Columbia; we are so lucky to have her lead P&S and CUIMC. She is such an incredible leader and at the same time is always down to earth, open, and approachable to all of us. Residents could just walk into her office and pitch an idea or raise a concern. She cares for health disparities and access to health care for all patients. At the same time, she has an academic focus on strengthening the support of physician scientists and academic research and in particular women in medicine. She rolled out grants for research support for women in their research years during maternity, recognizing the challenges of being a parent and trying to complete a research project. She challenged us in every conversation around science and medicine to think outside of the box and to think about what has to happen to tackle a problem for the next discovery and innovation in medicine.”