Michael Johns named executive vice president for Health Affairs

The newly-selected executive vice president for Health Affairs says his first priority is "getting a sense of the pulse of the health sciences faculty and the Emory community."

President Bill Chace named Michael Johns as executive vice president and director of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center, and chief executive officer of the Emory System of Health Care on Dec. 20, following a nine-month search. Although Johns won't officially take office until July, he began meeting with some of the health sciences deans, faculty, staff and students this week "to get a feel for the institution from their perspective and to hear their issues and concerns as well as what makes them enthusiastic and excited about the future for Emory."

Between now and July, Johns and wife Trina plan to spend part of every other week at Emory, plus long weekends to find a new home and learn more about Emory's place in Atlanta. Understanding how Emory's clinical delivery system meshes with the new medical market is a high priority, but he also wants to know how Emory relates to other institutions, the neighborhoods and the business community.

The "Johns years" will be fast paced, judging by his history at Johns Hopkins as dean of the medical faculty and vice president for medicine. In five years, he oversaw a curriculum revision, developed a technology transfer program considered a model of its kind, moved Hopkins into first place among all medical schools in sponsored research and completed the major reorganization of the clinical programs he began as associate dean. Thanks in large part to the physician practice plan Johns heads at Hopkins (similar to The Emory Clinic), its hospital has been consistently ranked the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

Chace believes Johns can do for Emory's health sciences center what he did for Hopkins' medical school: take an institution led to excellence by current vice president Charles Hatcher, and make it an even greater one. Rein Saral, director of The Emory Clinic and a former colleague of Johns at Hopkins, agrees. "Mike has the intellect, integrity and driving spirit to propel Emory to the very top of academic health care and help us make the next move in establishing Emory's reputation internationally for health care and health care delivery. He also has all the right human qualities."

Johns looks forward to the challenge. He dealt with many issues the health sciences center faces, both on the practical side at Hopkins and the policy side as an active member of the American Association of Medical Colleges, as an adviser to different government groups, and as a leading spokesperson for the role of academic health care centers in healthcare reform.

"The future of health care is going to be centered around teamwork and teams of health professionals working together, delivering the best quality of health care for the best price by allowing the professional best able to deliver services to do so," said Johns. At Hopkins he encouraged joint appointments among medical, public health and nursing faculty and was involved in bringing nursing into the clinical practice plan.

One of the exciting things about Emory for Johns is having schools of medicine, nursing and public health in the same organization -- and the three "fabulous" deans now in place. He and Public Health Dean James Curran were in medical school together and inducted into the Institute of Medicine the same year. "It will be great to work with him and the Rollins School." He has "watched [Nursing Dean] Dyanne Affonso from afar and been impressed by what she has accomplished in a short time" (she too recently was inducted into the Institute of Medicine). He knows Medical School Dean Jeffrey Houpt from their shared interests and activities at the national level, and believes "Jeff is a true leader among American medical deans."

That cross-disciplinary approach is also true of the future of research, said Johns. "We will see more trans-departmental, trans-school, even trans-institutional programs."

Born in Detroit, Johns set out to be a priest but decided on pharmacy when he entered Wayne State University. Some premed classmates sold him on a switch to medicine, and a chance opening in an otolaryngology laboratory opened the way to lifelong interest in diseases of the upper air and digestive tract.

Still deeply committed to otolaryngology and head/neck surgery, Johns will hold a professorship in the Department of Surgery. He will wait to see the time demands of his new offices before deciding whether to teach, as he did throughout his deanship. But no clinical practice. He did that for the first two years of his deanship before conceding the fast pace of change made it impractical; his last operation was one with his daughter, then a medical student at Hopkins.

That's fitting, for a man to whom family means much. Johns is married to his childhood sweetheart, Trina. Following their parents' insistence that a good education is a broad one, perhaps especially for physicians, daughter Christina majored in French at the Univeristy of Pennsylvania before entering medical school. She is now a resident in pediatrics. Son Michael majored in economics at the University of Virginia before following his father into otolaryngology. One of Johns' last acts as dean will be to present Michael his medical diploma.

Trina Johns recently left a long-time career as a systems analyst to complete a master's degree and further graduate work at Hopkins in art history and architecture. Theory still excites her, but her husband gave her a power drill this Christmas out of respect for construction skills she demonstrated at a grassroots housing rehabilitation program based through their church. She said, "We adopted and renovated a block of homes in a neighborhood, then sold them to the working poor at a low interest rate." She shares her husband's eagerness to learn about Emory and might consider continuing her studies, but she also is looking forward to seeing Habitat for Humanity in practice.

-- Sylvia Wrobel