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The Stobo Touch

In Texas, Stobo tried on a new hat—medical school president—and loved it.
> In Texas, Stobo tried on a new hat—medical school president—and loved it.

The man who launched a cultural change for female faculty at Hopkins went on to a banner decade at the helm of the University of Texas Medical Branch.

 

Last spring, Jack Stobo did something he hadn’t done in quite a while. He examined a patient. Stobo, 66—a no-nonsense rheumatologist who left a top administrative career at Johns Hopkins a decade ago to become president of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston—was joining in on one more of his institution’s new ventures.

Under discussion was a 50-year-old goatherd in Masalawi, Kenya, who was suspected of suffering from Rift Valley fever, a deadly mosquito-borne disease that can reach epidemic proportions if not checked. Now, thanks to UTMB’s new telemedicine program in global health, Stobo and a group of his Galveston colleagues sat watching a Kenyan doctor 8,500 miles away go over each of the patient’s symptoms. As the Kenyan doctor conducted a head-to-toe physical examination on the goatherd, a camera embedded in a high-tech stethoscope and a satellite dish mounted on the roof of the African field hospital transmitted close-up views in living color to a monitor in the Galveston classroom where the Texas physicians had gathered.

“We even examined his eyes and listened to his heart,” Stobo marvels, “and then, in real time, we diagnosed his disease. What’s more, within hours, we’d talked with Kenyan health officials about controlling the spread of Rift Valley fever.”

For Jack Stobo, it was just one more triumph in a star-studded administrative career that took off in 1985 when he left Stanford to become William Osler Professor of Medicine and director of the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins. This top position in the School of Medicine’s largest department is generally considered one of the most prestigious in the nation. And Stobo himself had completed his own residency 15 years earlier in the historic department.

Everyone who knows Jack Stobo will tell you that he brought his own touch to the chairman’s job.

Despite a sometimes gruff exterior, Stobo led a cultural change in his department that made him a kind of hero for at least one segment of the faculty. Realizing in the mid-1980s that women now comprised nearly half of all medical school graduates nationally, Stobo launched a revolution. Adamant that the University’s environment had to become more female-friendly if it hoped to attract top female faculty, he created the Task Force for Women in Academic Medicine. He then began religiously appointing women faculty to previously all-male committees and started a movement to achieve salary equity. “To contribute to a greater good, everyone has to feel equivalent regardless of gender,” Stobo professes.

“It was a pivotal turning point for women at Hopkins,” recalls Susan MacDonald, who joined the task force in 1992 and became its chair in 1995. “The work that Jack started made it clear for the first time that it was indeed possible for women to lead here. It inspired me to mentor other junior women, here and nationally, to become leaders in medicine and its subspecialties.”

Stobo wasn’t shy either about taking on a century of School of Medicine hallowed tradition, if it could help faculty gain precious time with their families. When he changed his department’s historic Grand Rounds from Saturday to Friday mornings, he received thank-you letters from men as well as women. Says MacDonald, who is now the first woman associate director of the Department of Medicine, “He is a man of good conscience who lives by his beliefs.”

Still, by 1994, Stobo was ready for a new challenge. Relinquishing his directorship of Medicine, he accepted the job of chairman and chief executive officer of Johns Hopkins HealthCare LLC. The role put him in charge of Johns Hopkins clinical centers and programs all over Maryland. It also made him a pivotal player in the move to blend the School of Medicine and Hopkins Hospital into a smoother-working virtual organization called Johns Hopkins Medicine.

But despite such successes, Stobo didn’t hesitate three years later when he was offered the top Texas job in Galveston. Though many at Hopkins were surprised when he accepted the Galveston job, for him there was no doubt that he wanted to take on this challenge. “I refer to UTMB as an academic health center with a soul,” he says. “It had a public responsibility to do good with society. I felt like [coming here] was the right thing to do. UTMB had a significant financial challenge. I had to address that and to help people feel good about the mission. My decision to come to UTMB was part altruistic and part based in reality.” 

This month, Stobo steps down as president of UTMB after a banner decade. Under his tutelage, the Galveston campus has witnessed a 10-year rise from 48th to 38th place in National Institutes of Health funding. It’s now fifth in the continental United States in the number of medical degrees awarded to under-represented minority groups, and it boasts the first full-size biosafety level-4 lab at a U.S. university. By the summer of 2008, it will also serve as home to one of only two labs in the country dedicated to the safe study of new and emerging threats to human health.  

But Stobo isn’t sitting back to reflect on his achievements. There’s too much to do. Some fly-fishing near his home on the Gulf of Mexico is on the agenda, but most of his time will now be spent at UTMB on his passions: issues related to global health, medical access for the underinsured and uninsured, and working with vulnerable populations in rural areas.

When pressed, he boils down his impressive career to one simple concept. “I like to do good. It’s all about service to the people I work for, to minority populations and to the medical profession.” After years of coaxing a fly rod, he’s learned also to watch the ripples. “When you make the environment better for one group,” Stobo says, “you make it better for all groups.”  star

 

Sarah Achenbach

 
 
 
 
Features
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 Desert Bloom
 'No One Dies Tonight'
 
Departments
 Circling the Dome
 Medical Rounds
 Bench Press
 Annals of Hopkins
 
Class Notes
 The Stobo Touch
 
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 Learning Curve
 Post-Op
 
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