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