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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 16, 2005 | Vol. 34 No. 34
New dean named for School of Public Health

"I've always had that sense of being at home on both sides of Wolfe Street," said Michael Klag, who arrived at Johns Hopkins in 1984.

Michael Klag, professor in SoM and SPH, to assume leadership post Sept. 1

By Dennis O'Shea

More than 20 years ago, simple arithmetic sent young physician Michael Klag down a new, parallel career path in public health.

Klag, appointed last week as the 10th dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, realized that the good he did one-on-one with sick patients might be multiplied many times over by finding new ways to keep a large number of people from ever getting sick in the first place.

At the time, Klag was a young internist in Syracuse, N.Y., and a commissioned officer in the Public Health Service.

"I was in full-time practice in an underserved community when I recognized the incredible importance of prevention," Klag said. "I was seeing three or four generations of the same family. Younger generations had risk factors and maladaptive behaviors, while their grandparents had cardiac disease. I realized it was a failure of prevention 20 or 30 years earlier that was leading to that disease."

By 1984, Klag was at Johns Hopkins, serving as a research fellow in the School of Medicine while studying for a master's degree at what was then the School of Hygiene and Public Health. While remaining a doctor in clinical practice, he had started down that parallel road to becoming an internationally known expert on the epidemiology and prevention of heart and kidney disease.

"Since then," Klag said, "I have felt comfortable moving from thinking about clinical issues at the bedside to population-based studies and interventions." He said he hopes to bring this spirit of collaboration and integration of clinical medicine and public health to his new position as dean.

Klag emerged from a pool of more than 100 candidates identified in a national search. He will take office Sept. 1, succeeding Alfred Sommer, the dean since 1990. Sommer, who announced a year ago his intention to step down, will remain active in research and in programs to improve global health and prevent blindness.

"Dr. Klag is the right leader to write a new chapter in the history of the world's oldest, largest and most prominent school of public health," said President William R. Brody, who recommended Klag's appointment to the executive committee of the board of trustees.

"His command of national and global issues of public health, his passionate commitment to public health education and his collaborative spirit make him ideally suited to build on the extraordinary work of his predecessors, Al Sommer and D.A. Henderson," Brody said. "He will articulate his vision for global leadership in public health and ensure that the school's faculty and students have the resources needed to execute that vision."

"I feel enormously privileged to lead an institution so critically important to the world's health," Klag said. "If you're interested in public health, there's no better institution than the Bloomberg School.

"It is humbling to follow in the footsteps of the people who have been deans of this school, from Al and D.A. back to William Henry Welch, who was the first dean of both the School of Medicine and the School of Public Health," Klag said. "His imprint has been on the school from the start. Wired into our DNA is his vision of international scope, an emphasis on research and a focus on mentorship and teaching."

Sommer said he has known Klag since his eventual successor first came to Johns Hopkins.

"He is a great leader, an outstanding researcher and clinician, and he understands the synergies between public health and medicine," Sommer said. "Michael has the vision and experience to lead the Bloomberg School into the future."

Klag is now the David M. Levine Professor of Medicine in the School of Medicine, with joint appointments in the Bloomberg School's Department of Epidemiology and Department of Health Policy and Management. He also is vice dean for clinical investigation in the School of Medicine. In that position, created in 2001, he is responsible for oversight of research that involves human volunteers. He has undertaken a widely praised restructuring of the school's policies and procedures governing human subjects research.

"Mike Klag is a rare individual," said School of Medicine Dean Edward D. Miller, who is also CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. "I have been privileged as dean to have available to me his talents, his dedication, his insights, his integrity and his intellect. I have counted on Mike for wisdom and straightforward advice, always delivered with deft good humor. His selection as dean is a great step for the Bloomberg School and the university, and I am so pleased that I will continue to work with him in this new capacity."

Klag is a 1974 graduate of Juniata College and earned his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1978 and his M.P.H. from Johns Hopkins in 1987. That same year he joined the university's faculty as instructor of medicine and director of the clinical track of the preventive medicine residency program at Hygiene and Public Health.

He was a founding member and interim director of the university's Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research; director of the Division of General Internal Medicine in the School of Medicine; and, in 2000-2001, interim physician in chief of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and interim director of the Department of Medicine. He has published more than 120 peer-reviewed articles and is a fellow of the American College of Physicians. In 1998, he was editor in chief of The Johns Hopkins Family Health Book.

Klag was one of the first epidemiologists to start to unravel the risk factors in, prevalence of and effective intervention strategies for kidney disease. He also has focused on the role of ethnicity in disease, searching, for instance, for explanations of the different risks among different groups for developing high blood pressure. Since 1988, Klag has directed the Precursors Study, a project begun in 1946 that tracks the health of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine alumni over many years to uncover risk factors and diagnostic markers for various diseases.

When he first arrived at the School of Medicine as a fellow, he said, his mentors told him it was critical that he cross Wolfe Street to study at Hygiene and Public Health, to learn the art and science of designing population studies and testing intervention strategies.

"When I came to Hopkins, I spent my first month at Public Health," he said. "On the second or third day, I was sitting at faculty/student lunch with Abe Lillienfeld, George Comstock, Moyses Szklo and Leon Gordis, very senior leaders in epidemiology, discussing a study that had just been published. "I knew right away that I had made the right decision. I said to myself, 'This is where I belong.' I've always had that sense of being at home on both sides of Wolfe Street."

The Bloomberg School of Public Health, established in 1916, was the first school of its kind in the world. Today, it enrolls more than 1,800 students from 71 nations in master's and doctoral programs in disciplines as diverse as environmental health, population and family health, biostatistics, molecular microbiology and immunology, and international health. The school's faculty members — about 450 full-time and 550 part-time — conduct research throughout the United States and in more than 50 other nations. The school wins nearly a quarter of all federal research funding awarded to the 32 U.S. schools of public health.

Under Sommer, the school has grown significantly in numbers of students and faculty, in research funding and in philanthropic support. In 2004, it completed a 12-year, $130 million expansion and renovation of its facilities.


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