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Grateful patients endow 'novel' professorship at Hopkins Medicine

Chair honors internist and clinical educator John Flynn and aims to foster his exemplary service, skills, and mentorship of young physicians
Posted July 12, 2017
Former pediatrics resident Matthew Moake (right) worked with John Flynn (left) for nearly six years and looks forward to bringing his mentor's compassionate approaches to patient care to his own practice. Former pediatrics resident Matthew Moake (right) worked with John Flynn (left) for nearly six years and looks forward to bringing his mentor's compassionate approaches to patient care to his own practice.

Ask patients or colleagues of John Flynn what sets the physician apart, and you'll find the answers cluster around the phrase "masterful diagnostician."

"He has a seemingly intuitive ability to smell things out during a routine examination that turn out to be right," says Phil Samper, a longtime Flynn patient.

That's a proficiency few internists or primary care physicians possess at a time such physicians, themselves, are growing scarce. So when another Flynn patient, University and Medicine trustee emeritus H. Furlong Baldwin, suggested establishing a chair in Flynn's honor, Samper and his wife, Gail, needed little coaxing to join the effort. The duo, along with more than 30 other patients and friends, endowed the John A. Flynn Professorship in the Department of Medicine. The gifts honor Flynn's decades-long record of exemplary patient care and provide resources that will help Flynn pass his skills — and his passion — to rising physicians.

"In the current medical economic climate, primary care is under-encouraged, but we know there are a number of medical students and residents here who are interested in careers in primary care. This professorship recognizes the importance of the clinician educator in producing primary care experts. I'm humbled and honored, especially knowing this kind of professorship is novel at Hopkins," says Flynn, noting that endowed chairs typically focus on specific areas of research.

Flynn's roots at Hopkins run deep: He completed his internal medicine residency, chief residency, rheumatology fellowship, and even an MBA here. Beginning with his 15-year tenure as clinical director of the Division of General Internal Medicine, Flynn has held key leadership roles across the institution, including as vice president of the Office of Johns Hopkins Physicians and associate dean.

"He examined the hands first, almost like a handshake … It allowed him to start the discussion face-to-face and the exam in a non-threatening manner, whether he knew the patient for 30 years or not at all."
Matthew Moake

Many of Flynn's posts have focused on improving patient care, such as his current role as medical director of Hopkins' efforts to implement a patient-centered, integrated medical record system. Flynn also cofounded and now helps direct Hopkins' Primary Care Consortium, which is dedicated to enhancing interprofessional primary care research among the schools of Medicine and Nursing, and the Bloomberg School of Public Health. The professorship's early resources have supported Flynn's time spent enriching the consortium's offerings, which include a biennial retreat and seed grants for clinical teams investigating innovative approaches to patient care.

The professorship also provides Flynn the schedule flexibility to provide mentorship — an aspect of his career he considers a calling. Flynn incorporates students and residents into the work of his internal medicine and rheumatology clinics, where they observe how he interacts with both new and longstanding patients.

"The interpersonal, social, non-medical aspects of these relationships — students and young doctors are too early in their careers to have a lot of experience in that," Flynn says. "But it's an important part of what they'll be doing every day."

Matthew Moake, a pediatrics resident who worked with Flynn for more than six years as an MD/PhD candidate, recalls that Flynn's patient consultations started the same way, each time.

"He examined the hands first, almost like a handshake," Moake recalls. "A handshake is how, normally, you meet people. It allowed him to start the discussion face-to-face and the exam in a non-threatening manner, whether he knew the patient for 30 years or not at all."

Over time, Moake says, he found himself adopting a handful of Flynn's mannerisms and approaches to patients. The skills gave him a considerable head start when he completed his dissertation and returned to the MD side of his degree program.

"There isn't often a lot of salary available for people like Dr. Flynn, who are invested in educating and mentoring physicians," says Moake, who this summer will move to Charleston, S.C., to complete a pediatrics fellowship at the Medical University of South Carolina. "Valuing that role, through a professorship like this, ensures you'll produce excellent doctors."

Samper is hopeful that, by elevating Flynn as an exemplar, his gift will do just that.

"What John brings to the patient, to students, and to the community is a superbly talented, dedicated physician who is available to all," Samper says. "There are many people who go through life without getting exposed to high-quality medicine — and then they find it in John Flynn."

To learn more about supporting clinical educators like John Flynn, please contact Carly Frank, associate director of development, or Donna Bolin, senior associate director of development.