As Research!America prepares for our 24th Advocacy Awards Dinner, we want readers to learn more about our award recipients. We are continuing our Tuesday series leading up to the March 11 event. Please meet Michael M.E. Johns, MD, recipient of the Herbert Pardes Family Award for National Leadership in Advocacy for Research.
When did you know you were an advocate for scientific research and innovation?
I first sensed the excitement of research in medical school working in my mentor’s lab and continued to pursue research as a faculty member. My first full understanding of the importance of advocacy occurred shortly after being appointed dean at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (JHU), when academic medical centers faced a draconian proposal in Congress to cap indirect costs at 50%. I worked with JHU president Bill Richardson to organize select private universities in opposition and to clearly explain – to Congress and to the public – what the adverse impact would be on many of the leading research-intensive universities and the subsequent negative impact on our communities.
This experience helped to open the door to my participation in similar ad hoc leadership groups around the Clinton and then the Obama health care reform efforts. As an educator, I believe it is important to support the concept of advocacy in academic medical environments to ensure future generations understand the importance of keeping lines of communication open with our legislators.
If you were not in your current field, what would you be doing?
I started off in high school on a path towards the priesthood. When I took my first in-depth biology course, I was hooked and realized that I could blend my belief in service with the intellectual challenges within science and medicine.
If not a physician-scientist, I might have ended up as an engineer – solving complex problems with an impact benefiting my community and our society.
What do you consider your biggest career accomplishment? What do others consider your biggest career accomplishment?
I am very proud of how Emory University and its Woodruff Health Sciences Center moved from a regional reputation to a national and international reputation. We were able to accomplish this through a focus on building excellent research facilities and aggressively recruiting world-class talent into a vibrant environment in which humane learning, healing, and discovery could thrive and replicate. We worked to foster a culture that engaged people and ideas to find the “penetrating point” of the cutting edge in solutions and pathways forward.
One of our key initiatives at Emory was to address the high incidence and mortality from cancer throughout Georgia. Working with a significant coalition of business, government, and nonprofit interests, our team earned NCI Cancer Center designation for Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute, the first such designation in the State of Georgia. Winship would later earn the National Cancer Institute’s Comprehensive Cancer Center status and is now recognized as an elite research and treatment center.
I’ve learned the most from…
I have had many wonderful mentors and role models throughout my life. Colleagues, leaders, friends who have given me sage advice and guidance over the years.
I have to say, however, that I’ve learned a tremendous amount from my mother. She had this restless ambition and energy, and I knew from an early age that I wanted to emulate that passion.
What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Don’t ever give up on pursuing your dreams and the questions that drive them. Try to set a good pace but never truly rest.
And finally, always check the depth of the water before diving in. It’ll save you some significant headaches!