Oral Histories from the Archives: Dr. John Falletta

Dr. John FallettaThe Archives is happy to announce that we have added an oral history with Dr. John Falletta to our collections. Dr. Falletta is Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics and Emeritus Senior Chair of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of the School of Medicine. In this recently conducted interview, he recounts his life and career, from his childhood in Kansas to his advisory role at the IRB.

After receiving his degree from the University of Kansas School of Medicine, Dr. Falletta joined the staff of Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, where his work on a local cluster of childhood leukemia cases solidified his interest in pediatric hematology-oncology. In 1976 he came to Duke to serve as the Chief of the Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology. Under his direction, the division thrived and expanded, becoming the largest program in North Carolina. He stepped down from this role in 1994 to become Chair of the IRB, a position he held until his retirement in early 2015.

In the oral history, Dr. Falletta discusses some of his notable achievements, including conducting a study that established the effectiveness of penicillin in preventing complications of pediatric sickle cell anemia; helping establish Ronald McDonald House in Durham in 1980, which provides services to children being treated at Duke (and their families); and leading efforts to reform and accredit the IRB in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Below is a two-minute clip from the oral history. This excerpt features Dr. Falletta describing his early medical education and mentors, and learning about what it meant to be a good doctor: “In order to care for somebody, you have to care about them.”

To learn more about this oral history, contact the Archives at dumcarch@mc.duke.edu or (919) 383-2653. 


I worked in the Duke Hematology/Oncology pediatric bone marrow transplant program from 1991-1995 as a staff assistant when Dr. Falletta was Chief of the Division. Being entirely unschooled in medicine or biology when I began working at Duke (how that came to be is another story) I had no idea what to expect. Dr. Falletta has had a profound impact on my thinking and understanding of what it means to be a "good" doctor and administrator--honesty, compassion, and courage is what I witnessed over some unpleasant events (not to mention lively internal warfare) during that time. His expectations of the support staff were not complicated: don't wait for the call to go to voice mail--this might be a family member calling. Finally, shortly after he became chair of the IRB (there was only one in those days as I remember), Dr. Falletta took an afternoon of his time to give a presentation to an undergraduate bioethics class at NC State, of which I was a member. I'm very happy to have bumped into him again!

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