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Dome - A New Chapter

Dome October 2012

A New Chapter

Date: October 5, 2012

Paul B. Rothman

When he agreed to become the dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, Paul Rothman signed up for a truly mountainous learning curve. Now, in his third month on the job, the 54-year-old leader is immersed in helping to shape the institution’s future.

Deep into JHM’s system-wide process of strategic planning, Rothman is recruiting for a new director of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.

He recently announced the Johns Hopkins Diabetes Initiative, a collaborative program that will pull together the institution’s multiple efforts to understand and treat diabetes.

And he has signed off on a three-year $19.9 million grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to improve the quality and efficiency of health care delivered to JHM patients.

Such priorities reflect the scope of business-as-usual for Johns Hopkins Medicine, with 34,000 full-time faculty and staff. Helping to inform Rothman’s decisions is Ronald R. Peterson, president of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System.

Dome met with the new dean/CEO over the summer to hear his thoughts about the job.

Q. What most excites you about your new role?

A. The opportunity to work with outstanding people at every level. People at Hopkins are really committed to developing new systems of care that are cost-efficient and of the highest quality, with a focus on patients and patient safety.

I’m also excited by the amazing quality of education and the level of research. Currently, many places are seeing drops in funding over the last several years, but Hopkins continues to grow in research.

Q. What challenges does Hopkins face during this time of health care reform?

A. Our country needs institutions like Hopkins to step up and lead in developing a cost-effective system of high-quality and safe care and cutting-edge research, and educating and training the next generation of leaders in medicine. 

The restraints on federal spending, both in terms of health care and research, are going to be a challenge. Although the nation is committed to medical research and helping to find treatments for disease, I worry that when legislators look at budgets, they may not understand the need to invest in research that will pay out, manyfold, over time. 

Q. As a molecular immunologist, you have a rich background in basic science. How does that inform your approach to research and opportunities for collaboration?

A. I understand how important basic science is to moving discovery forward and that it is the basis for finding treatments for disease. I try to read Cell, Science and Nature every week to keep up with what’s happening.

I know that people, especially scientists, love to collaborate. Sometimes, though, institutions put up administrative barriers that can inhibit the natural flow of scientific collaboration. Scientists who succeed are those who are oblivious to those barriers and make sure science gets done. My job is to facilitate that process, to make sure that there aren’t any unnecessary barriers to the flow of science.

Collaboration is also a key to clinical success. Sometimes systems of reimbursement and administration impede the natural flow of care across disciplines. Our goal is to focus on patient-centered care, which is often interdisciplinary, and to remove anything that inhibits a collaborative approach to our patients.

Q. What’s on your short to-do list?

A. Developing a strategic plan. My priority is to make sure that the strategic planning process led by John Colmers [JHM vice president for health care transformation and strategic planning] and Jonathan Lewin [director of radiology and radiological sciences] is completed. We have to think about where the institution is going in the next three to five years. That involves many people, a lot of input and a system for periodically evaluating our progress to make sure that we have everything we need to get to where we want to go.

Q. During the past decade, we have dedicated more resources to potential income-producing areas, such as intellectual property and technology transfer. Is this a priority of yours?

A. Yes. We are here to find treatments for disease, which means that in most cases, you have to partner with industry. Many people at Hopkins are generating great ideas, but they often need a partner to get their findings to the point where they can benefit the public. The goal is to take great ideas and research and see them become therapeutics. That’s why we need to facilitate these interactions with industry.

The potential revenue stream they offer is good. But we’re engaging in these partnerships because we want to treat disease, and the money helps us do that. It helps us to have resources for our mission.

Q. You have said that you plan to take time to understand the people at Hopkins before you make any major strategic moves. What drives that decision?

A. You can often accomplish a goal in many ways, and I think it’s important to pick one that fits best with the culture of the institution that you’re leading. I want to understand Hopkins’ culture before I do anything important. I think I understand its value system, but I really want to know it well.

Q. How do you seek input?

A. I’ve found that being a dean means being somewhat isolated, so I get out to talk to faculty, students and staff. For example, once a month I may have lunch with a group of assistant professors and have dinner with students to better understand what is happening from their perspective. I like to walk the floors of the hospital and research buildings a couple of times a week. Rather than scheduling all the meetings in my office, I try to schedule some in faculty and directors’ offices, which is another way of getting out and meeting people. Making informed decisions means getting input on key issues from all the stakeholders.

I’d like people to share information, tell me their thoughts and not feel inhibited. Although people often don’t like to tell the dean and CEO about problems, I welcome their thoughts and also encourage them to let me know their views on how to solve them. My job is to make sure that Hopkins is the best place to succeed.

“My priority is to make sure that the strategic planning process is completed. We have to think about where the institution is going
in the next three to five years.”

—Paul Rothman

Rothman at Work

Last position: Dean of the Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa, 2008–2012; recruited new leadership for nine departments, opened a branch campus in Des Moines, established new administrative structure for University of Iowa Healthcare

Areas of specialty: Rheumatology and molecular immunology; research focus on the role of cytokines in leukemia and in immune response to asthma and allergies

Education: B.S. degree, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1980; M.D. degree, Yale University, 1984; resident training and postdoctoral fellowship, Columbia University

Rothman at Home

Hometown: New York City

Family: Wife: Frances Jane Meyer, a clinical gastroenterologist, and three children: Alissa, a sophomore at Amherst College; Daniel, a freshman at Brown University; 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 world’s first cloned ferret

Favorite food: Chinese

Favorite tunes: Folk-rock singer-songwriter Jack Johnson; Nickel Creek bluegrass band; old classic rock