Dr. David D. Nicholas. Photo credit: URC

The URC family mourns the passing of David D. “Dave” Nicholas, MD, MPH, former URC Senior Vice President who was responsible for the development of URC’s global leadership in health care quality improvement.

Dave was a pediatrician and public health expert who was admired by all who worked with him as a man of tremendous integrity, humanity, and commitment to improving health services and health outcomes. He recruited and hired many of URC’s quality improvement and health systems strengthening experts and was a true servant leader and mentor to all.

Lasting Impact

After graduating from Yale Medical School, Dave did a Rotating Internship at the University of Oregon Medical School Hospital in Portland. He then served as a Peace Corps doctor in Niger from 1963-1966, where the Maternal and Child Health Program he helped develop with the Peace Corps Volunteers still operates today. Dave returned from Africa to complete his residency in Pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center/Babies Hospital from 1966-1969, where he met his wife, Carole.

Always seeking to expand his knowledge, Dave then earned his Masters in Public Health from Harvard University in 1970. He worked in his native New York City with the Health and Hospitals Corporation before moving back to Africa with his family to serve in the UCLA-led Danfa Project in Ghana from 1971-1977. Dave’s work in Ghana focused on polio and vaccines, prompting a personal note from Albert Sabin who wrote: “Dr. David Nicholas, who helped to destroy some old dogmas. With admiration, Albert Sabin.” After Ghana, UCLA brought Dave to California where he held a faculty position in the School of Public Health from 1977-1982.

Focused on Quality Improvement in Health Care

Dave joined URC in 1982 when he was recruited by former colleagues to be part of the team leading URC’s first global health project, Primary Health Care Operations Research (PRICOR). Dave served as PRICOR’s Deputy Director, and later, Director. Recognizing the critical importance of a focus on quality of health services, Dave led URC’s successful bid for the Quality Assurance Project, which URC implemented from 1990-2007. Dave then led the design and served as the first Project Director of the USAID Health Care Improvement Project, which solidified URC’s global leadership in health care improvement in low- and middle-income countries.

When Dave retired from URC in 2008, colleagues from around the world contributed recollections to express their gratitude for his guidance and mentorship for them personally and for his tenacious commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of people around the world. These messages have these common themes that Dave exemplified in his life’s work:

  • Always strive to stay focused on the difference that better quality, more evidence-based care can make for mothers and children and what support for doing their job better can mean to underpaid, undervalued health workers;
  • Above all, have integrity in everything you do;
  • In development projects, headquarters’ role is to support field staff – those who do the most important work;
  • Be curious about how to do things better and be open to new ideas and continuous learning; and
  • Value your family and don’t hesitate to make time for them, even if it means pushing your work aside for a while.

We join colleagues around the world in remembering Dave Nicholas with affection and gratitude for his work to help millions.