Institute of Medicine honors members for outstanding service

October 20, 2014

WASHINGTON -- The Institute of Medicine (IOM) honored members Dan G. Blazer and Richard B. Johnston Jr. for their outstanding service during the IOM's 44th annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Blazer received the Walsh McDermott Medal, awarded to an IOM member for distinguished service over an extended period. Blazer has served on three IOM boards, two of which he chaired. He currently chairs the Board on the Health of Select Populations and a new ad hoc committee on the public health dimensions of cognitive aging. He has been a member of 16 study committees, six of which he chaired, and four advisory committees. Blazer has seen nine IOM studies through the review phase and also served as a member and chair of the IOM Membership Committee. His acumen as a physician, epidemiologist, and researcher, especially pertaining to mental health in older populations, is well-leveraged and recognized both inside and outside of the IOM. He has served as president of the American Geriatrics Society, the Psychiatric Research Society, and the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry. Blazer's consummate epidemiological skills have helped guide several key advisory committees, and his knowledge in the fields of geriatrics and psychiatry made him an ideal chair for the Committee on the Mental Health Workforce for Geriatric Populations. Blazer's extensive work on behalf of military service members and veterans demonstrates how his concern for these populations extends beyond his scientific interests. As a member and chair of the IOM's health outcomes subgroup of the Committee on the Assessment of Readjustment Needs of Military Personnel, Veterans, and their Family Members, his clear focus, leadership, and commitment to detail enabled that group to accomplish their goals and contribute to the overall mission of the committee. Blazer knows how to get the best out of expert volunteers by listening well and leading with competence, compassion, and integrity. Blazer is the J.P. Gibbons Professor of Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.

Johnston received the David Rall Medal, which is given to an IOM member who has demonstrated distinguished leadership as chair of a study committee or other such activity, showing commitment above and beyond the usual responsibilities of the position. From 1992 to 2001 Johnston chaired a series of committees and participated in vaccine safety activities on the Board of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. This placed him at the center of the vaccine safety controversies that were particularly heated at that time. Working to bring a science base to the study of the adverse effects of vaccines is fraught with challenges, especially dealing with the emotions involved in this debate. Johnston consistently exhibited knowledge of and belief in the IOM process, delivering messages with confidence that science will show the way and empathy to diffuse difficult situations. While in a public workshop to discuss the issue, Johnston deftly addressed the concerns of key stakeholders. He expressed concern for a grieving parent while neither endorsing this individual's beliefs about vaccines nor overstating current scientific knowledge, confronted a controversial researcher who claimed the IOM was treating him badly, and defended the committees' work to fellow scientists. His consistent message: It is important to hear all sides while understanding that all sides are not equally grounded in the evidence from a scientific standpoint. These situations could have easily escalated and undermined what the IOM was trying to accomplish -- bringing science to bear on an important and controversial policy problem. However, Johnston's open, honest, sensitive, and caring leadership led to a relative level of trust and peace during this turbulent period. Johnston is the Associate Dean for Research Development and professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
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Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.

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