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At the Helm: Jonathan M. Ellen, President, CEO and Physician-in-Chief of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

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At the Helm: Jonathan M. Ellen, President, CEO and Physician-in-Chief of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

At the Helm: Jonathan M. Ellen, President, CEO and Physician-in-Chief of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

Date: 05/30/2017

The pediatric residents shuffle into the patient’s room for rounds and the introductions begin: the residents, the nurse, the pharmacist and the attending physician, Jonathan Ellen. The only clue for the family to know that there’s anything unusual about Ellen is the stitching on his lab coat: Physician-in-Chief.

Ellen also is president, CEO and vice dean of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, and the opportunity to lead rounds is a rare one he relishes.

“It was one of the best experiences. Always is,” Ellen says with a twinkle in his eye. “I love it. I’m very impressed with the residents. Extremely impressed.”

Graduate medical education and research are points of emphasis Ellen brought to Johns Hopkins All Children’s in 2011 when he came to St. Petersburg, Florida, to lead its integration into the Johns Hopkins Health System.

Originally from Philadelphia, Ellen joined Johns Hopkins in 1999 and is steeped in its culture, but he has a knack for being an agent of change. He helped expand the mission at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center beyond community clinical care by establishing an academic department in pediatrics on that campus in Baltimore, Maryland.

“Dr. Ellen combines the great practices and traditions of Johns Hopkins Medicine with fresh thinking for new situations,” says Paul Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. “He brings transformative change and high standards that expand the impact of the Johns Hopkins mission.”

A Florida Transformation

Five copies of Who Moved My Cheese? rest on a shelf above Ellen’s desk.

He used the 1998 bestseller on understanding and dealing with change to lead Johns Hopkins All Children’s — a Florida hospital that opened in 1926 and had a reputation for excellent clinical care — into a new era. Ellen pushed the development of residencies and fellowships, created four core institutes and emphasized collaboration and research.

“Change is hard. Change is scary,” says Ellen, who used to give the book to those who visited his office. “It’s hard when there’s change going on for people to know what’s going to happen and what it means for them.

“The hardest thing to understand is that change is inevitable and what you want to do is help monitor and manage change rather than become a victim of change.”

As Ellen speaks, the most obvious sign of change — the $95 million Johns Hopkins All Children’s Research and Education Building — is visible through his office window. Expected to be complete in 2018, it will house the hospital’s core institutes — Brain Protection Services; Cancer and Blood Disorders; Heart; and Maternal, Fetal and Neonatal — in a collaborative environment.

“One of the great, exciting opportunities here at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital,” Ellen says, “was the chance to take a Johns Hopkins approach to health care and put it on the chassis of a freestanding children’s hospital. That kind of combination does not exist anywhere in the country.”

Lofty Goals

As Ellen interacts with leaders along Florida’s west coast, he routinely hears reinforcement that his changes are having impact.

“People walk up to me and say, ‘You guys are doing amazing things at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital,’” he says.

Ellen is impressed with how well the organization of about 3,200 employees has dealt with all the changes. U.S. News & World Report ranks Johns Hopkins All Children’s in six pediatric specialties and as a Best Children’s Hospital overall for 2016–2017. The inaugural class from the Johns Hopkins All Children’s pediatric residency program will graduate in June.

But Ellen recognizes that achieving the hospital’s lofty ambitions requires harder work and deeper commitment.

“We have to move a lot of things at the same time in the same direction. And that’s hard,” he says. “But I would tell you the dedication, the hard work, the determination of this organization have really been nothing less than outstanding.”

Despite the challenges of managing change, Ellen retains the focus instilled in him through his own education as a physician.

“The best part about being a physician leader is that your values have been set from the understanding of what patients need,” he says. “It’s very difficult to turn away from what a patient needs when you’re making a decision, whether it’s about money, about hiring, about processes."