William Fulkerson speaking to a room in front of a Duke Health backdrop
Centennial Spotlights

William J. Fulkerson MD

Not long after arriving at Duke in 1983, pulmonary and critical care medicine specialist William J. Fulkerson MD began serving in leadership positions in Duke Health, rising to become Senior Vice President for clinical affairs, CEO of Duke University Hospital and VP of the Duke Health System. As the executive vice president for the Duke University Health System from 2008 to 2021, Fulkerson oversaw an era of tremendous growth and the crisis conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I never had a desire to run a hospital,” he told Working at Duke in a 2021 retirement story. “I thought, ‘who in the world would want to do that?’”

Fulkerson was widely respected for his patient care, becoming the doctor his colleagues asked to treat their own family members. And his research on pulmonary embolism — deadly blood clots in the lungs — led to new care standards.

As a hospital leader, he made it a point to help staff at Duke Regional Hospital in Durham and Duke Raleigh Hospital feel like part of one organization and helped establish Duke Lifepoint Healthcare, a network of 14 community hospitals in North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Along the way, Fulkerson also earned an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business in 2002.

“More than expanding the bottom line, I hope people remember the impact we’ve had on allowing healing to occur,” he said.

A North Carolina native who earned both his undergraduate and medical degrees at UNC, Fulkerson was awarded The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest honor, in 2021.