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Lucky 13?
For 12 years running, Johns Hopkins has unshakably worn the crown of America's best hospital. But does being No. 1 really make a difference?

Whether it's the Fortune 500, Top 40 or the Sexiest People Alive, Americans love lists. They bring order to our world, define who we are, and can even provide valuable information.
It was as a service to consumers that the editors of U.S. News & World Report began ranking the nation's hospitals in 1990. Since that inaugural year, when the Mayo Clinic took the top spot on the "Honor Roll," the weekly news magazine has declared Johns Hopkins America's best hospital. But does that status proffer any special advantages?

It depends.

When recruiting nurses, the hospital intentionally downplays its No. 1 position. "We don't use it in our print ads," says Tom Urbanski, nurse recruiter for Hopkins Hospital. "It could be seen as obnoxious."

This is particularly true locally, where the hospital is often perceived as elitist. "We don't want to inhibit anyone from applying here regardless of their education or experience," says nurse recruiter Kim Shaffer. "Our approach is, Come one, come all."

Furthermore, the recruiters say that even nationally Hopkins' ranking is common knowledge among nurses, so why state the obvious? "At career fairs, if the conversation is long enough, it will almost always come up," says Urbanski, who travels all over the country for his job. "But I don't generally lead with it."

Bonnie Alterwitz, who as director of Career Services for Hopkins Hospital recruits allied health professionals like radiation technologists, pharmacists and social workers, has a different attitude. "We really bank on it, especially in our national advertising." Whether or not the U.S. News rankings can be shown to directly affect employee recruitment, one thing is clear: When applicants are asked what draws them to Hopkins, as many as 50 percent mention "reputation."

The annual listing, however, was never meant to be a horse race. It was intended as a guide for consumers facing critical decisions at a crucial time in their lives. The magazine's methodology uses three factors to rank 17 specialties: a hospital's reputation among physicians (derived from annual surveys), mortality rates (gleaned from government data) and care-related factors like nurse/bed ratio and medical technology. It's not a perfect yardstick-critics say the most important piece of information patients need is the number of specific procedures a hospital performs-but it is probably the best known.

The annual "Best Hospitals" ranking, released every summer (this year on July 18), has inevitably become a powerful marketing tool for hospitals who make the list. But after leading the pack for 12 consecutive years, Hopkins is judicious about its use.

While other medical centers have been known to proclaim the rankings on banners and highway billboards, "My philosophy is not to flaunt it," says Toby Gordon, JHM vice president for strategic planning and market research. "We take the high road."

There's more than humility at work. "Hopkins has such a high demand for services," she explains, "we've not spent much on advertising. But if we needed to drive business, we'd strongly consider using it, probably outside of the local market."
Meanwhile, you'll find the "Best Hospitals" logo if you scroll to the bottom of the Hopkins Web site,, and there is always a celebration and giveaway on the day the rankings are announced. For years, the hospital has had a statement prepared should we be toppled. It reminds employees that all the medical centers included on the magazine's "Honor Roll" of best hospitals are superb places whose positions may be separated by relatively small margins, and that Hopkins is honored to be in such company.

Even so, as the Year 13 announcement approaches, no one's denying that their fingers are crossed.

--Mary Ellen Miller

Gifts and Gratitude
In the early 1990s when, each July, The Johns Hopkins Hospital joyfully discovered that it had landed in the top spot on the U.S. News & World Report "Honor Roll," celebrations, complete with refreshments and speeches by elected officials, were held at noon in front of the dome-until some complained about the midday heat, and others said they missed out because they had to work.

Then came the giveaways, beginning in 1996 with coffee mugs. Employees were pleasantly surprised-except for those who said they didn't drink coffee. The posters ('97) featuring five U.S. News covers were greeted with near disdain, so the following year ('98), it was back to the mugs. They were such a hit that all 8,000 were gone by noon. Staff in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs complained, however, that the hundreds of boxes of ceramic mugs were too heavy to distribute, so the next year ('99) plastic water bottles were selected. They weighed far less, but were even bigger and bulkier. They fairly flew off the tables. Employees fought over them; strict rules had to be laid down.

The white license plate frames ('00) seemed just the ticket-until someone pointed out that they unfairly discriminated against those without cars. Chocolate stars were considered for the following year. Then someone mentioned the diabetics ... and the melting issue. Small and lightweight, the key chain ('01) and notepad ('02), now ordered in quantities of 21,000, were politically correct and even well received-if a bit unexciting.
Perhaps this year, on the morning of July 18, employees will come to work and find a gift that is just right. -ABS





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