Debara L. Tucci, M.D., M.S., M.B.A., is the director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), part of the National Institutes of Health, a post she assumed on September 3, 2019. She is the NIDCD’s first woman in this role and the institute’s fourth director since it was founded in 1988. Dr. Tucci oversees the NIDCD’s annual budget of $498,076,000 (fiscal year 2021) and leads the institute’s research and research training programs in hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language. Discoveries in these areas can have a dramatic impact on the lives of the tens of millions of people with deafness and other communication disorders.
Dr. Tucci has been recognized as a pioneer in her work to understand the causes and impact of hearing loss and to develop treatments to restore hearing. Prior to joining the NIDCD, she was on the faculty of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, since 1993, where she co-founded the Duke Hearing Center and directed Duke’s cochlear implant program.
Receiving continuous NIH funding since beginning her academic career, Dr. Tucci’s early work examined the effects of conductive hearing impairment on central auditory system function in an animal model. Throughout her career, she has successfully combined clinical and surgical practice in otology, neurotology, and skull base surgery with basic, translational, and clinical research.
Her clinical research interests have focused on addressing barriers to hearing health care for older adults, starting in the primary care setting. She was also instrumental in establishing a national network of academic and community-based research sites to conduct clinical research in hearing and balance disorders. She has led clinical studies on treatments for sudden sensorineural hearing loss, tinnitus, and Ménière’s disease. Dr. Tucci also led NIDCD grants to train and mentor the next generation of clinician investigators in otolaryngology and communication sciences. Her work to address hearing loss as a global public health problem continues at NIH in her role as co-chair of the Lancet Commission on Global Hearing Loss.
Dr. Tucci began her career as a clinical audiologist at the University of Virginia (UVA) Health Sciences Center in Charlottesville for four years before earning a medical degree at UVA School of Medicine in 1985. She completed her residency training in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at UVA and a postdoctoral fellowship in otology, neurotology, and skull base surgery at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In 2013, Dr. Tucci earned an M.B.A. in business and health sector management from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
Dr. Tucci has served on numerous advisory and review committees, including the National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Advisory Council (2013-17) and the NIDCD Board of Scientific Counselors (2017-2019). She was also a member of the 2015-16 Consensus Committee on Accessible and Affordable Hearing Health Care for Adults convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
She has served in national leadership roles for most of the professional societies related to her specialty and subspecialty. The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) honored Dr. Tucci in 2012 with the Distinguished Service Award and again in 2017 with the Jerome C. Goldstein, M.D., Public Service Award. She has served on the AAO-HNS Research Advisory Board, Board of Directors, Executive Committee, and numerous subcommittees. She has also been president of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology, the American Otological Society, and the American Neurotology Society.