Alumni profile: Oscar Crofford, M.D.

From the Summer 2014 edition of Vanderbilt Medicine Magazine

Oscar Crofford, M.D. Photo by Dean Dixon.
Oscar Crofford, M.D. Photo by Dean Dixon.

A Distinguished Career

Oscar Crofford, M.D., is the recipient of the 2014 VUSM Distinguished Alumnus Award, and will be recognized during Reunion Weekend in October. Among his many achievements, Crofford led a landmark study called the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) that established the value of rigorous blood glucose control and revolutionized the treatment of the disease.

Crofford’s “impact at Vanderbilt is difficult to overstate,” said Alvin Powers, M.D., current director of the Diabetes Research and Training Centers (DRTC) and Vanderbilt Diabetes Center.

“He was the chair on the (national) commission in the 1970s that led to the creation of the NIH-supported network of diabetes centers. “That commission also laid the foundation for the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial, which changed the way physicians take care of diabetes,” he said.

Born in Chickasha, Oklahoma, in 1930, Crofford attended Vanderbilt in an accelerated program and earned both his bachelor’s and medical degrees in seven years.

After two years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, Crofford returned to Vanderbilt for a fellowship in clinical physiology. Vanderbilt in the early 1960s was brimming with scientific excitement.

“We were just in the forefront of the technological revolution in medicine, the scientific revolution, things that were never possible in the past … That’s where the excitement was. That’s where the fun was,” Crofford said.

In 1965, Crofford became Vanderbilt’s first full-time diabetes specialist. He established the Division of Diabetes, and helped bring the nation’s first federally funded diabetes research center to Vanderbilt in 1973. He was called to Washington, D.C., to testify on behalf of a bill to increase federal funding for diabetes research.

In 1977, Congress appropriated $5 million to open five more diabetes centers, and to expand their mission to include the training of diabetes specialists. They are now called Diabetes Research and Training Centers (DRTC).

The commission also recommended that a study be conducted to determine whether strict control of blood glucose could prevent the disabling and life-threatening complications of diabetes, including blindness, kidney failure, amputation and heart disease. The NIH asked Crofford to help get it started.

Two years after the DCCT ended, Crofford began a new chapter in his life, moving with his wife, Jane, to his family’s 700-acre spread in the Ozark Mountains to raise Black Angus bulls.

He returned to Vanderbilt in December 2013 for the Annual Diabetes Day where Powers announced the creation of a lectureship in Crofford’s name.