Two finalists are vying to run UNC Health Care and School of Medicine

CEO of UNC Health Care and dean of its medical school steps down

William Roper, who held top posts with the Bush and Reagan administrations before turning UNC Health Care into the largest hospital system in the Triangle, steps down
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William Roper, who held top posts with the Bush and Reagan administrations before turning UNC Health Care into the largest hospital system in the Triangle, steps down

The next leader of UNC Health Care, which includes 13 hospitals and employs 30,000 people, and UNC’s prestigious School of Medicine, is expected to be named next week.

The decision will conclude a national executive search that was accelerated by last month’s promotion of current CEO and dean William Roper to run the 17-campus UNC system. Roper, 70, has been CEO of UNC Health Care, dean of the School of Medicine and vice chancellor for medical affairs since 2004 and will leave the $837,700-a-year post months ahead of schedule.

As part of a major executive shuffle, Roper was named the interim replacement for Margaret Spellings, who plans to step aside Jan. 15 as the head of the state’s university system. But as part of the executive search process to find Roper’s successor, Spellings will make a recommendation on Roper’s replacement to the UNC system Board of Governors.

Spellings is currently reviewing two finalists who have been vetted by the board of UNC Health Care and by the UNC Board of Trustees, according to an emailed statement from UNC Health Care in response to questions from The News & Observer.

“It is anticipated she will make a recommendation for one of these candidates to become the CEO / Dean / Vice Chancellor by year’s end to the UNC Board of Governors, which must confirm her recommendation,” the statement said.

The Board of Governors has just one meeting scheduled next week, on Dec. 14, and that is the meeting at which they’ll vote on the candidate, said Board chairman Harry Smith. He said the two finalists are strong contenders selected from “a very large applicant pool.”

“They’ve had a good process,” Smith said of the executive search to replace Roper. “I really think they squeezed this thing out.”

The two finalists have not been announced. But in The News & Observer’s discussions with knowledgeable sources, Dr. A. Wesley Burks, executive dean for the UNC School of Medicine, has emerged as the leading choice for the position.

According to UNC’s website, Burks, 64, currently assists Roper in “providing overall academic leadership for the School of Medicine and the UNC Health Care System.” Both Roper and Burks are pediatricians by training.


Reached by phone, Burks referred questions to communications and marketing executive Lisa Schiller. She summarized the selection process and declined to offer further details.

Smith, the Board of Governors chair, would not confirm that Burks was one of the two finalists.

Burks is not as widely known in the health care field as his mentor and boss, Roper, whom Modern Healthcare magazine has named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare six times. Roper was a former administrator of the nation’s Medicare system under President Ronald Reagan and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under President George H.W. Bush. He also ran UNC’s School of Public Health and was an executive in a health insurance company.

Burks has spent three decades researching children’s food allergies, focusing on peanut allergies and potential treatments and cures. Last month the New England Journal of Medicine published a paper by a research team lead by Burks on a treatment that builds up children’s resistance to peanuts by gradual exposure to peanut protein. The treatment is expected to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration this year and available to patients next year.

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John Murawski covers health care and environmental issues and has won numerous awards from the N.C. Press Association for his news coverage as well as his book reviews. He has previously worked as a journalist in South Florida, the Philadelphia area and Washington, D.C. He attended Virginia Commonwealth University and Indiana University, and has taken classes at Veracruz University (in Mexico) and the Jagiellonian University (in Poland). He can be reached at or 919-829-8932.