NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

NHLBI’s Engelgau Retires After 33 Years

Dr. Michael Engelgau
Dr. Michael Engelgau

Dr. Michael Engelgau, who helped establish and guide NHLBI’s Center for Translation Research and Implementation Science (CTRIS) in his role as its first deputy director, has retired. His 5-year stint at NIH topped off a 33-year career with the Department of Health and Human Services that took him around the world and garnered international recognition for his efforts to improve the prevention and treatment of noncommunicable diseases.

“My life has been filled with opportunities,” Engelgau said. “You never know where you’ll end up, but you’ve got to be prepared.” 

Engelgau was ready in 2014, when Dr. George Mensah, then newly appointed CTRIS director, recruited him to help create something new—a center that would study sustainable delivery strategies for the many highly effective treatments and therapies that had emerged from NHLBI’s biomedical research investments in heart, lung, blood and sleep-related diseases. A major goal of the new center: to help reduce persistent health disparities among people with these conditions.  

Mensah recalled that as inaugural deputy director, Engelgau quickly got to work. He helped launch translation studies as a new science direction for NHLBI, developed a research portfolio targeting this science and established a research unit within NHLBI to foster and administer it. He gave a host of presentations across the institute, NIH and the broad research community, communicating the importance of translation research both domestically and globally. Engelgau also contributed to many scholarly publications promoting the research. And he played a major role in vetting and hiring key leadership staff and helping existing staff develop new skill sets. 

“Dr. Engelgau has been invaluable at the NHLBI as a seasoned clinician-scientist and an empathetic and compassionate leader,” Mensah said. “His efforts have resulted in a substantial NIH investment for translation research that has resulted in healthier and longer lives, both in the United States and globally. I am definitely going to miss him.”

NHLBI director Dr. Gary Gibbons echoed those sentiments at a recent advisory council meeting, where he called Engelgau “an exemplar of a commitment to excellence in public service.” Engelgau “was always insightful, collegial, collaborative and constructive.” Gibbons expressed appreciation “for his contributions to the NHLBI, for standing up CTRIS as a new unit and just being a fabulous leader and colleague.” 

Engelgau grew up in Coquille, Ore., a small, rural town that once had a population of only about 4,000 people. He would later earn a medical degree from Oregon Health Sciences University and specialize in internal medicine. 

From 1986 to 1990, Engelgau served as a medical officer with the National Health Service Corps, part of HHS, in Palau, Micronesia, a group of small islands in the western Pacific Ocean. At the time, he recalled, the region was extremely isolated by today’s standards, with no phones and virtually no televisions. But what the tropical region did have was disease, and plenty of it. 

“When I first arrived, the hospital and clinics had very little routine primary and preventive care,” Engelgau said. “I saw high rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and hypertension.” 

While there, he also witnessed an outbreak of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness that can cause pain and sometimes a deadly hemorrhagic fever. But after 4 years, his medical team had made a big impact, increasing primary care activities that reduced avoidable illness with better treatments for hypertension and diabetes to the point that the doctors were seeing fewer sick patients, particularly in emergency rooms and hospitals. 

“That was highly rewarding,” he said. “That experience helped launch me on my public health career.” 

Engelgau went on to hold many positions within the Public Health Service, where he earned the rank of captain. He worked as a medical epidemiologist and in various leadership positions at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including as director of noncommunicable disease activities at its office in Beijing, China. He also worked as senior public health specialist at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.

Widely recognized for his wealth of experience in medical prevention, Engelgau contributed to more than 200 peer-reviewed research articles. He also wrote dozens of published reports and contributed to numerous books and monographs. He held several teaching positions throughout the country (he is currently on the faculty at Georgetown University) and served as a peer reviewer for more than a dozen scientific journals. 

Now that he has brought his official career to an end, Engelgau said it hardly means he will abandon his longtime research and public health interests. He plans to stay active in the community by teaching a class in global health and collaborating with public health colleagues on special projects from time to time. He has even considered seeing patients again.

Engelgau said he is also looking forward to having some old-fashioned fun. He loves the outdoors and plans to move eventually to Florida with his wife Terry, to whom he has been married for 40 years. 

“I want to express my deepest thanks for all the support that CTRIS received over these years—from throughout the entire organization and throughout NIH,” Engelgau concluded. “NHLBI is a great organization and its biggest strength is from its people and their unwavering commitment to serving the country and the world with excellence in science. Finally, I want to give a huge heartfelt thanks to George Mensah, who took a chance and hired me—from thousands of miles away when I was in China. I could not have a better supervisor, colleague and friend.”

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

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