Beyond the Dome: Jenny Mladenovic

Jeanette “Jenny” Mladenovic, M.D., M.B.A., retired executive vice president and provost, Oregon Health and Science University

Published in Aequanimitas - Fall 2017

Once upon a time, serious student Jenny Mladenovic (pronounced Mula-DEN-o-vic) considered becoming a nun. “Every nun I knew was smart,” says the Seattle native who attended Catholic schools. When she met some medical missionaries who were planning to become doctors, however, she wondered if becoming a physician was a possibility for her. Mladenovic, the daughter of Eastern European immigrants, decided to try.

The first in her family to attend college, Mladenovic earned her bachelor’s and medical degrees from the University of Washington, graduating from medical school Alpha Omega Alpha. The chairman of medicine there encouraged her to look at residency programs on the East Coast. “I’d never been east, and I was terrified,” she recalls. She also knew nothing about Johns Hopkins. But her interview with former Osler Director Philip Tumulty, “who was gentle and welcoming”—and the stimulating environment—won her over. She completed her internal medicine residency at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Stanford University, and chief residency in hematology/oncology fellowship at the University of Washington.

From the outset, Mladenovic embraced academia, which would lead her to spend her entire career in leadership roles. She’s served in various positions at the University of Minnesota, University of Colorado, the State University of New York and the University of Miami. She has won a number of teaching awards, led an NIH-funded laboratory focused on hematopoietic stem cell differentiation and has been active in several national organizations.

Most recently, as executive vice president and provost at Oregon Health and Science University, Mladenovic oversaw a major realignment of the school, helping to create a collaborative life sciences building that serves three universities. She also opened a school of public health and used a multipronged approach to reduce student debt and tuition.

Mladenovic retired in 2017. She and her husband of 40 years, Steve Steinberg (Johns Hopkins, 1974; Osler, 1976), a gastroenterologist, live in Boca Raton, Florida, and have four children and two grandchildren.

How has your Osler training experience influenced your career?

I believe Hopkins training is special because of its culture of personal patient responsibility. The faculty treated you as a “junior colleague,” capable of caring for their patients. The underpinnings of Hopkins made it clear that science was the future of improving patient care. From the very beginning, one learned that patients were the sources of questions: If something didn’t make sense, then it was an opportunity to take the “bedside to the bench.” That legacy endures, as I witnessed it through my son, a recent Hopkins and Osler graduate. I think my Osler heritage is responsible for my career choices in medicine.

Can you think of any transformative moments during your training?

There are so many! One example epitomized Hopkins. I had a midnight admission of a patient I had cared for just a week previous. This young man, who had suffered a huge heart attack, returned to the hospital with a blood clot in his leg. I gave him intravenous heparin, and within an hour, he was covered in petechiae (blood spots). I had no idea what had caused this. So, as an intern on-call alone, I called the hematologist, who listened to my story. Next thing I knew, there was Dr. (Professor) William Bell—at 2 a.m.—rummaging through the patient’s wastebasket, looking for the heparin vial I had used. Today, we recognize this scenario as heparin-induced thrombocytopenia.

What are you most proud of?

Overall—having had the privilege of working with so many inspiring students, trainees and faculty! In my most recent role, I’d say that it was some of the creative initiatives. We started a school of public health that was a unique model and developed university-wide clinical, educational, and scientific partnerships in rural parts of the state and in Southeast Asia. As a provost, one sees the health care enterprise beyond a school of medicine—how our silos can make it more difficult to foster better understanding, communication and sometimes even progress. It is the reason that inter-professional opportunities are critical to developing the kind of workforce we need now and for our future.

What’s up next for you, now that you’re retired?

Well, I am probably not a very “retiring” type. I am happily rejoining my husband, who has continued to work in south Florida, and attending to some family needs. I have taken the opportunity to recertify in medicine, because that Hopkins identity of “doctor” is still who I am. In the past, I had little time to focus on some aspects of medicine that are of personal interest, such as the gap (including gender) in clinician scientists and some unique challenges of the evolving health care system. I now have that opportunity and am already engaged in some novel partnerships that will foster these passions.