Dr. Edward Miller

Dr. Edward Miller, retiring dean and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said he always thought he would be an engineer. But after volunteering at a hospital, he got into medicine. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun / June 18, 2012)

Johns Hopkins Medicine faced a leadership crisis in 1996 when Dr. Edward D. Miller came in as interim dean of the school of medicine.

The former dean and the former hospital president had feuded openly, leaving Johns Hopkins in limbo with no vision for the future.

Within months, the school and Johns Hopkins Health System were merged and Miller became the first CEO and medical school dean in the restructured leadership.

Miller brought calm and for the next 16 years oversaw a building boom at Hopkins, creating a system with an international division, six hospitals and more than 30 primary and specialty health care facilities. He overhauled the medical school curriculum and built new research facilities.

His efforts cumulated in the spring with the opening of a $1.1 billion hospital for the East Baltimore campus.

There were also challenging times, including when Reisterstown resident Ellen Roche died in 2001 from lung damage and multiple organ failure after participating in an asthma research experiment led by scientists at Hopkins' Bayview campus. Also that year, 18-month-old Josie King died from severe dehydration and incorrect medication at Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

On June 29, Miller's tenure ends as he enters retirement. Dr. Paul B. Rothman, a rheumatologist and University of Iowa dean, will take over.

From his already packed-up office on the first floor of the Broadway Research Building, Miller talked to The Sun about his tenure, what he sees for the future of health care and how he now plans to spend his time.

What made you take the position?

Dan Nathans. Most people think of [then interim president] Dan Nathans as Mr. Hopkins himself. He is a great scientist and of the highest integrity. He only had the best of intentions for the institution. So when he asked me to consider being the interim dean, it was a great compliment. Then I called my friends around the country and my mentor, and they all said I should do it. I tried to put a time limit on it because interim roles are not always good roles. I said I'd do it for six months and figured it may get dragged out a little bit.

So you really thought it was just an interim role?

Yeah, they had a search firm, and the search firm said don't put your name in. You don't have an MBA. … And they were really bringing in pretty well-known people to look at this job who had big positions already in other cities.

But then Ron Peterson [president of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System] and I started to work together. And we liked each other and we thought alike. But he has a whole separate set of skills than I have. We worked well together and neither one of us had a hidden agenda and our egos didn't get in the way and people trusted us.

So you proved yourself on the job not knowing you were proving yourself?

I actually think that is pretty much right. When you think about Johns Hopkins Medicine, it was something we were creating each day. There wasn't a playbook on how to do it. And when they formally made me the dean and CEO it was somewhat of a validation that we were working together well. And if you think about it — the crisis — it was that the two previous leaders couldn't work together. So now you had two that could work together and both were respected by the faculty and administrative staff, and I think that to the search committee and the trustees that was a good sign.

How did you approach the task of integrating the system?

First thing we did was take everybody away and spent a weekend talking about what are we all about. What's our core mission? What do we really stand for? We brought Jim Collins who wrote the book Built to Last. He used data and looked at how companies had done over 30 years in the stock market and he found that those who knew their core values and had aligned themselves with their values performed the best. So we had a set of core values that I think everybody resonated with and kind of got them on the right page. Then after that the issue was how do you address the issues that had languished for awhile because there was inability to move forward. So the first issues we had talked about is that we were doing very well in research. But we had little research space and we had very few plans for research space, so we had to tackle that problem.

Were people open to change?

Surprisingly so. All the directors [or chairmen of departments] changed during this period of time. The people chosen were people willing to be change agents. One of the things you find here is directors are incredibly important at this institution. We're very decentralized because a lot of the power, a lot of the money, really sits in the departments or institutes.