Michael Johns entreats Health Sciences Center faculty, staff to `step boldly into the future'

The new Executive Vice President of Health Affairs, Michael M.E. Johns, shared his vision for the Woodruff Health Sciences Center at his first major address to faculty, administrators and staff on Sept. 9. He said the center can be "the leading academic health sciences center in the world in terms of the pace and level of intellectual excitement; the place to be for generating new discoveries, ideas and innovations in patient care, health maintenance and preventive health services; and--vitally important--a place renowned and admired for its thoroughgoing collegiality."

Will achieving such a high, wide-reaching goal be easy? "Of course not, but it'll be well worth the effort--and I guarantee we'll have a lot of fun along the way," said Johns.

More than 800 health sciences employees and many University administrators gathered at the WHSCAB Auditorium where Johns spoke or at remote broadcast sites at Emory Hospital, Crawford Long Hospital and Grady Hospital. He told them the speech was the first of a series of public sessions and part of "a process of ongoing communication and dialogue that will be vitally important to everything we do together over the coming years."

Calling Emory a "University with a noble history and with great resources," especially human resources, he said his first two months as executive vice president had shown him that people in the Woodruff Health Sciences Center were "passionate about this University," with a "burning desire to move boldly into the new challenges of our era."

"I have no doubt we'll step boldly into our future, because we have to," he said. "We'll do that by adding to the mix and base of resources and by continuing to reconfigure and refine some of the ways in which our resources are deployed," reaching beyond existing paradigms. "I'm not here to recreate Johns Hopkins," he said, referring to his extremely successful years as dean of the Hopkins Medical Institutions before taking office at Emory last July. "Emory must develop within its own environment."

In all of our missions, the "key to success in an age of market-driven privatization is to work smarter, work together and organize resources to serve the largest possible public in the most efficient and effective manner." That doesn't necessarily mean to grow larger, he said. "It means to act larger."

In teaching, that means enhancing models of undergraduate and graduate health professions education. Johns spoke of the many achievements of the School of Medicine, the Woodruff School of Nursing's "solid program and curriculum oriented to community service and the managed care environment," and the "remarkably good things at the Rollins School of Public Health, which has come along extremely fast."

However, acting larger may also mean developing a health care education mission, alongside the health care mission, that embraces the region and even reaches internationally. It may mean finding other avenues to serve an even larger education cohort, perhaps a more comprehensive program of continuing health education targeted to consumers and learners at every age level. It may mean utilizing the extraordinary proliferation of new communication technologies, such as the Internet and especially substantial local resources such as Turner Broadcasting.

In research, Johns expects to see Emory pioneer new forms of cross-disciplinary research and develop new types of partnerships for technology transfer that can bring discoveries out of the labs and into production and distribution in the marketplace, with an impact on the University, the city of Atlanta and the region beyond. With this future in mind, he said the new research building now being planned can't simply be a place to transfer or recruit scientists, but must help shape new models and programs of interdisciplinary research, perhaps even whole new disciplines.

He noted that Dennis Liotta, the new vice president for research, is developing plans to enhance significantly Emory's research support infrastructure. He also praised the Yerkes Primate Research Center as a good example of Emory's research strengths, noting that it was poised to move up another notch with superb new lab and vaccine development space and recruitment.

In patient care, acting larger means continuing to improve our competitive position in the new health care delivery environment. Hospital and clinic employees listened keenly as Johns praised achievements in "the kinds of efficiencies and service performance levels necessary to our new era, especially in our University hospitals, changes and institutions of significant new patient service systems in The Emory Clinic, a rise of managed care contracting to about three million lives, and a growing program in primary care." Despite these great strides, "there are still serious service issues that must be addressed," Johns said. "We must respond--not defensively, not with excuses, but with solutions. Excellence in service to patients and our community is essential."

He emphasized several times throughout the hour-long speech that the focus on clinical care delivery issues cannot overshadow Emory's co-equal missions of education and discovery research. In fact, he said, a strengthened academic and clinical interface is what will make the Health Sciences Center great.

--Sylvia Wrobel

Editor's note: The entire text of Johns' State of the Health Sciences Center Address is available on the Woodruff Health Sciences Center homepage: <www.emory.edu/WHSC/>.

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