Kevin W. Sowers will take the reins of the Johns Hopkins medical center and health system on February 1. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)

Johns Hopkins Health System stepped outside its ranks and tapped Kevin W. Sowers, a nurse and career executive with the Duke University Health System, as the new president and executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

He will succeed Ronald R. Peterson, who is retiring at the end of January after 44 years at the medical institution. He will be an adviser for a year to help with the transition.

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Sowers will take the reins of the $8 billion academic medical center and health system on Feb. 1. The 56-year-old spent 32 years with the Duke University Health System, the last eight years as president and CEO of the flagship Duke University Hospital.

The boards of trustees for Johns Hopkins Health System, Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine approved Sower’s appointment on Friday. He was chosen after a national search.

Dr. Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, announced the appointment to faculty and staff by email and made the news public at a press conference Monday.

“Kevin has a sophisticated grasp of the complexity of a large academic health system and the challenges and opportunities that we face,” Rothman told the audience at Johns Hopkins. “Under his capable leadership, Duke University Hospital saw impressive gains in clinical quality, patient satisfaction and finances, and its facilities expanded and modernized. …

“I have total confidence that Kevin will bring the same enthusiasm, strategic acumen and dedication to patients that he has demonstrated at Duke during his 32 years there.”

Sowers will be second in charge behind Rothman. He will help Rothman oversee a system of six hospitals in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Florida. The system also includes suburban health care and surgery centers, more than 40 outpatient primary care sites, a full-service home care provider, managed care plans, and hospital management, consulting and clinical education services around the world.

Nearly 40,000 people are employed by Johns Hopkins Medicine, which is made up of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Health System.

Sowers said he was was not looking for a new job when Rothman approached him about coming to Hopkins

“The more I met with him and the more I met with other people from Hopkins, the more I got excited about the opportunity to work with people who are the brightest minds and biggest hearts in health care,” he said in an interview.

He was intrigued by the challenge of helping the medical system continue to provide quality, safe, cutting-edge care, while adapting to the pressure on medical systems to restrain costs.

“I am excited about getting the team together and hearing ideas about how to best position the system,” he said.

Duke and Johns Hopkins have similar cultures and a long history of collaboration, Sowers said. The Duke medical school’s first president was a Hopkins-educated doctor.

“It was really easy to make the decision that I was at the right place,” he said.

Sowers started his career with Duke as an oncology nurse in 1985. He held several nursing leadership positions, including director of medical oncology and nurse internships. He became most interested in the administrative side of medicine after he oversaw the opening of an inpatient unit at Duke in the 1990s.

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“I didn’t see myself as leader,” he said. “When I became a nurse we weren’t allowed to be presidents and CEOs. I didn’t become a nurse because I wanted to become a CEO one day. I became a nurse because I wanted to take care of people.”

Dr. William Fulkerson, Jr., an executive vice president at the Duke University Health System, has known Sower for many years. Sowers served as chief operating officer when Fulkerson headed Duke University Hospital.

“He is focused on putting patients first,” Fulkerson said. “He has championed safety and quality in every venue that we have. He is tremendous mentor to our staff and he is a real winner. He will make a great leader for Johns Hopkins.”

Sowers earned nearly $700,000 as the head of Duke University Hospital in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2015, according to the latest available Duke tax documents. Peterson, meanwhile, earned just over $2.6 million in the same year, according to the latest Johns Hopkins tax documents.

Prior to his position as CEO of Duke University Hospital, Sowers held other senior leadership positions within the Duke University Health System, including chief operating officer for Duke University Hospital and interim CEO for Durham Regional Hospital. He also held a variety of senior administrative roles.

“I had the great fortune to witness the beauty, complexities and challenges of health care delivery,” Sowers said during Monday’s press conference. “Whatever my position was at any moment, I consistently saw in my colleagues dedication and compassion, and a commitment to better the lives of others through advancing science and caring for the human spirit.”

Sowers will be joined in Baltimore by his partner, Anthony Evans.

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