Vukich retires after40 years at UF Health Jacksonville
The year was 1984 and David Vukich, MD, FACEP, decided to change course. He left his post as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps to become a faculty member at UF Health Jacksonville in what was then the division of emergency medicine. Little did he know, he was starting a 40-year journey that would forever enrich his life.
Fast forward to the present and Vukich is the senior vice president and chief medical officer for UF Health Jacksonville. He also serves as a professor and associate dean for hospital affairs at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville.
“I would do it all over again,” he said. “We do more here with one thin dime than any organization anywhere, and I am so proud of that. This has truly been a rich chapter.”
That chapter is coming to a close as Vukich retires at the end of January. Now, he reflects on the victories of his career and a life dedicated to the well-being of his fellow man.
Part of an evolution
Vukich has held a front row seat to the growth, changes and improvements at UF Health Jacksonville.
“In four decades, we’ve gone from average to outstanding — growing clinical programs, academic programs and research in a phenomenal way,” he said. “The number of faculty physicians increased from 60 to more than 400. There was a time we only had a couple handfuls of residents — look at us now! We might have experienced setbacks at times but we’ve always progressed upward.”
Through it all, Vukich has remained with the organization. His presence and expertise has made him a pillar of the UF Health Jacksonville and UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville family.
He is responsible for hospital’s department of defense training programs, which have been successful in obtaining earmark legislation and currently are producing combat casualty care courses.
“Dr. Vukich has been instrumental in the success of both the hospital and the college,” said Linda Edwards, MD, dean of the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville. “We must never forget his pioneering efforts in the establishment of the TraumaOne flight program, the development of the department of emergency medicine and much more. The community at large is grateful to Dr. Vukich for his unwavering commitment to the health and well-being of not only his patients but to mankind.”
The thrill of emergency medicine
Emergency medicine can be quite intense; however, for those with the passion and the skill, the fast-paced and sometimes hectic environment is one they enjoy. Vukich notes field work has always “been in his blood.”
“This specialty is so exciting! From riding in helicopters, to being standby aid for shuttle launches, and even rolling out with the Jacksonville Beach S.W.A.T team. These things are all so cool and fascinating to me and I got to do it as part of my job," he said. "What I’ve enjoyed the most is the field work, being a helicopter crew member was my favorite thing.”
The cost of patient trust
The truth is, not every day is a win. Vukich notes that being a medical professional is indeed an honor, but it does come with a cost at times.
“A mentor told me on one of my difficult days that there is a price we pay for the honor society gives us to be physicians," he said. "For patients to give us their bodies and minds and to trust us means the outcome ends up on your shoulders. That’s the cost of the trust. If you want to save 100, you’re going to lose one."
The pride of the job
There were many moments of fulfillment over the course of his career. As the former chair of the department of emergency medicine for 29 years, Vukich found shaping the next generation of medical professionals rewarding.
“When we have graduation of our residents I am overwhelmed,” he said. “We have close to 2,000 doctors that have trained in our program and I am extremely proud of that.”
Another point of pride was being named as a professor.
He will also tell you that one of the major highlights of his career was being the first residency-trained physician in the Navy Medical Corps. Vukich was in the Navy Medical Corps for ten years prior to joining UF Health Jacksonville.
Moving from a division in the department of surgery to a department of emergency medicine was a major goal for Vukich, and he was happy to oversee the change.
“I started a campaign to become a department. It took three years, but we pulled it off,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in Gainesville lobbying and showing why we should have department status and it happened. It was a hard journey but it was one that a handful of us took in the early years.”
For three years, Vukich was the chair of the department of emergency medicine for both Gainesville and Jacksonville campuses – simultaneously. He doesn’t recall much sleep during that time.
Honors and recognitions
Vukich has received many awards and recognitions including The Louis Russo Award for Outstanding Professionalism in Medicine; and the University Term Professorship award.
He was named as a 2010 Jacksonville Business Journal Health Care Heroes honoree and was made a Duval County Medical Society Lifetime Member in 2020.
“I am proud to be in health care, proud to be a physician. That’s the greatest honor I could have in my opinion,” Vukich said.
Vukich served as president of the Duval County Medical Society, president of the Florida Chapter of Emergency Physicians, board examiner for the American Board of Emergency Medicine, and assistant medical director of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.
The next chapter
There’s more for Vukich to do as he opens the door to retirement. He is looking forward to more free time to share with his wife, Pam, and doing the things he loves. His fishing pole and paint brush are at the ready, but that’s not all.
“I want to pick up where I left off with my piloting license, travel, write a book or two and enjoy the gun range,” Vukich said.
One thing is certain, UF Health Jacksonville and the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville will always be in his heart.
“We do what others won’t,” Vukich said. “They could but they don’t. The majority of people that are here aren’t trying to get rich. We are here because we’re on a mission and I love every part of this institution.”