Date: September 1, 2012
Paul B. Rothman officially began work as Dean/CEO of Hopkins Medicine on July 1, but he’d already become a familiar presence, having made weekly visits to campus since the announcement of his appointment last December. We checked in with him over the summer to get his initial thoughts about Hopkins and its people. Look for more extensive coverage of the new Dean/CEO in future issues of Hopkins Medicine Magazine.
Interview by Justin Kovalsky
Your first week on the job coincided with the aftermath of a summer “derecho” that left parts of Baltimore without power for a week…
So I walked into a blackout. My wife was laughing because when I took the dean job at the University of Iowa, the day I was approved by the board there was a huge flood in Iowa City, and I actually had to close the medical school for a week. That was my first act as dean. So I guess I’m used to coming in under adverse conditions.
What most excites you about your new role?
The opportunity to work with the outstanding people at Hopkins. People here are committed to developing new systems of care that are cost-efficient and of the highest quality, with a focus on the patient and on patient safety. I’m also excited by the amazing quality of education and research here. Many places have seen drops in funding over the last several years but Hopkins continues to grow in research.
How will your background in basic science color your approach to Hopkins’ research enterprise?
I know the life of scientists, and I’ve been a great advocate of basic science. I understand how important basic science is to moving all discovery forward and that it’s the basis for finding treatments for disease.
What is your strategy for moving forward with any change here?
Before I do anything, I really want to understand Hopkins’ culture. I think I understand the value system, but I want to know it well. I’ve started to gain knowledge of the people and the institution, but over the next couple of months I want to solidify that and get a much better understanding of the place.
What do you see as your greatest challenges?
We’re in a time of change in health care. The country needs institutions to step up and develop systems of care, and that’s a big challenge, especially for academic institutions. But I think we’re up for the challenge. Hopkins has to lead in developing a cost-effective system that continues to deliver high-quality and safe care.
The restraint of federal spending, both in terms of health care and research, is going to be a challenge. I’m really worried about flat NIH budgets. I know that the nation is committed to medical research and helping to find treatments for disease. I understand that there are financial constraints to that, but I think it would be shortsighted to really cut NIH.
While your long-term plan is still percolating, what’s on the shortlist?
The shortlist is to develop a strategic plan. We have to think about where the institution is going to go in the next three to five years, so that’s my primary goal right now. And that’s a process that involves many people and a lot of input, and a system to make sure that we have people on board to get where we want to go.
What do you see as the role of collaboration?
Selflessness obviously is the heart of collaboration. I think scientists love to collaborate—it’s inherent to them. Sometimes we put up administrative barriers that inhibit the natural flow of science. The people who are successful are the people who are oblivious to those barriers and go ahead and make sure science gets done. My job is to facilitate that and make sure that there aren’t any barriers for the flow of science.
For clinical activity, collaboration is also key. Again, there are systems of reimbursement and administration that sometimes don’t allow the natural flow of care across disciplines to take place in a patient-centered way. Our goal now is to overcome anything that would inhibit a collaborative approach to our patients and refocus on patient-centered care.
Paul B. Rothman
Professional: Dean of the Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa, 2008-2012
Areas of specialty: Rheumatology and molecular immunology; research focus on the role of cytokines in leukemia and in immune response to asthma and allergies
Hometown: New York City
Favorite music: Jack Johnson; a bluegrass group called Nickel Creek; old classic rock
Favorite food: Chinese
First jobs: Stock clerk in a paint store; summer camp counselor
Favorite (non-medical) authors: Richard Russo, Ethan Canin, Michael Chabon
Family: Wife, Frances Jane Meyer, a clinical gastroenterologist, and three children: Alissa, a sophomore at Amherst College; Daniel, a freshman at Brown; and Eric, a ninth-grader at Friends School of Baltimore
Pets: “Arwen,” a rescue dog that is part black Lab, part Australian sheep dog. “Libby,” the first cloned ferret in the world (“She’s published”)