Johns Hopkins Hospital tapped one of its own Thursday to be the first female president in the institution's 127-year history.
Dr. Redonda Miller, who worked her way up during a 20-year career at Hopkins, becomes one of a small number of women across the country to head a hospital.
While she never specifically eyed the president's office, she said she decided to submit her name when the rarely vacant position came open. While well aware of her history-making role, she's more focused on her many new responsibilities.
"I'm very proud to be the first female president and it does send a message to other women aspiring to leadership roles," Miller said. "I'm proud to be a role model. ... But gender won't play into my day-to-day role."
Miller, 49, will start the new job July 1. She succeeds Ronald R. Peterson, who held the position for nearly two decades and announced in January that he was stepping down. Peterson will remain at Hopkins in his other roles as executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine and president of the Johns Hopkins Health System, which encompasses six hospitals, hundreds of community physicians and a self-funded health plan.
Johns Hopkins employees learned of Miller's appointment Thursday in a note from Peterson, who served as co-chair of the search committee with Paul Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine — the umbrella alliance of the health system and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
"Redonda's extraordinary combination of exceptional medical prowess, years of progressive administrative experience, and the well-earned respect of senior clinical and administrative leadership will serve us all well," Peterson wrote.
In a phone interview, Peterson said it was "a bit of history in the making" for Hopkins that the next president is a woman.
"We didn't necessarily set out to do this, but increasingly we are trying to make sure we look at a diverse pool of candidates," Peterson said. "I am personally pleased that the best candidate happened to be a woman."
About 11 percent of hospital CEOs were women in 2012, according to the American College of Healthcare Executives. Locally, other female hospital presidents include Amy Perry at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore and Leslie Simmons of Carroll Hospital Center in Westminster.
The search for a new president came in part because Johns Hopkins Medicine has grown in size and complexity and Peterson and other administrators decided it was a good time to recruit the next president. Peterson plans to retire in a few years and wants an orderly transition. He also wanted the opportunity to mentor the new hospital president.
Hopkins began looking nationally late last year for candidates to fill the position, interviewing early applicants via Skype before bringing the most promising in for face-to-face talks. The final decision came down to Miller and one outside candidate.
Ultimately, they liked the fact that Miller understood the hospital's culture, with its decentralized organizational structure in which clinical areas are overseen by a clinical director. Miller also understands the nuances of an academic hospital and is familiar with Maryland's unique rate-setting system. Maryland is the only state in the nation with a waiver from federally set Medicare rates.
"She is first and foremost a very well-trained academic physician," Peterson said in an interview. "She is somebody who is very well respected by both clinical leaders as well as administrative leaders."
Miller came to Hopkins 28 years ago for medical school and never left. A residency in internal medicine at Hopkins followed medical school. She also has served as associate program director of the Osler Residency Program, assistant dean for student affairs for the school of medicine and vice chair of clinical operations for the Department of Medicine.
Most recently she served as the senior vice president of medical affairs for the Johns Hopkins Health System and vice president of medical affairs for the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
"My number one focus will be continuing to put our patients first and delivering the high-quality care we're known for, making sure our patients have a good experience," she said. "We're already well on our journey in embracing change in how we deliver care, value over volume. I plan to continue that work."
Miller got started on the administrative pathway after earning an MBA from the Johns Hopkins University in 2004. While she's taken on additional responsibilities over time, she still sees patients and hopes to continue doing so after becoming president.
"I'd like to try and keep seeing patients," she said. "It adds such an invaluable insight into administration to know what it's like. It makes me more knowledgeable and informs my decisions."
Hospital industry administrators praised Miller's appointment and called her a solid choice.
"I've had the pleasure of working with her," said Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association. "Her insight as a clinician and her talent in the areas of quality and patient safety and leadership have shown within the state of Maryland."
Miller serves as chair of the Maryland Hospital Association's council on clinical and quality issues as well as on the organization's executive board.
"I am delighted to see that Johns Hopkins has invested in the future with the appointment of Dr. Redonda Miller, who clearly has excellent credentials and experience to lead the institution going forward," said Dean E. Albert Reece of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in a statement. Reece is also vice president for medical affairs for the University of Maryland. "We look forward to continuing our collaborative opportunities in the future."
Miller is married to physician Albert Polito, a pulmonologist who directs the lung center at Mercy Medical Center. The couple lives in Homeland and has two daughters: Francesca, 11, and Bianca, 7.
Miller plans to continue her commitment to the community by increasing the number of people from local neighborhoods who work in the Hopkins system and improving the health of residents of the surrounding community.
She acknowledged she has big shoes to fill by following Peterson's long tenure.
"I'm grateful he'll be here to mentor me and help with decisions," she said. "The hospital has been run incredibly well. … I'm lucky to have a team of clinicians and employees who value the mission. It's not broken."