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Johns Hopkins Military & Veterans Health Institute

The first thing you notice when entering the offices for the Johns Hopkins Military & Veterans Health Institute (MVHI) is the overwhelming degree of mutual respect and admiration exhibited by the individuals who work there.  Considering the gargantuan task they are encumbered with, and the limited resources at their disposal, it is no small feat that this two-person operation runs so seamlessly.

Retired Major General James K. Gilman, M.D. and Bahar Zarrabi, MBA, the Executive Director and Senior Associate for Business Development, respectively, could not be farther apart in origin.  Dr. Gilman, a military veteran with 35 years of service, has held leadership positions at Walter Reed, San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center and Fort Detrick.  Ms. Zarrabi, who was formerly the Senior Administrative Coordinator to the Chairman of the Johns Hopkins Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, has a background in physiology and neurobiology prior to earning her MBA.  She, along with other plastic surgery faculty, is responsible for the creation of “Business Thursdays,” where business topics are presented to residents and faculty four times a year in the Johns Hopkins Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.  Despite the fact that one is career military from small town USA and the other emigrated here as a child from the Middle East, or perhaps because of it, their combined interest and experience in working to improve the lives of service members, veterans and military families is at the core of the primary purpose of the MVHI.

The MVHI was created in 2013 with the primary purpose of working with the existing Military Health System as well as the Veterans Health Administration in improving the lives of service members, veterans and military families by coordinating the large body of talent from Johns Hopkins Medicine, the Applied Physics Laboratory, the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the School of Engineering and other research and academic departments across Johns Hopkins.  Through the four pillars of research, education, clinical care and consultation, the MVHI is seeking to move the University and its health system into closer partnership with the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Working with the Department of Defense presents unique challenges to an institution rooted in NIH and commercial research dollars.  The DoD focuses on funding a finite number of specific problems unique to service members and their families.  The military takes a practical solution approach to research by posing the issue and expecting the researcher to provide the solution.  Many researchers are more accustomed to determining the course of the research and solving the problem at a measured pace.  The military is a notoriously impatient funding source.  Military leaders want solutions.  Hopkins has an additional hurdle in obtaining research funding from the VA, there is no VA hospital that is closely affiliated with Hopkins.  Since the VA only funds intramural principal investigators, collaborations between Johns Hopkins and the VA have been relatively sparse.

Despite these obstacles, Dr. Gilman is very optimistic that JH is in a powerful position based on the depth of its operation, which incorporates experts from several schools, a top ranked health system and APL.  The vast majority of young researchers have not been exposed to the DoD.  The MVHI’s strategic approach is to help investigators become more confident working with the DoD, thus creating a new generation of researchers who understand both why and how DoD work is different.  By working on specific proposals, providing advice and learning how to navigate the processes, the institution will be better suited to compete for DoD funds.

One way the MVHI is reaching young researchers is through the Russell Military Scholar Program, named for Major General Philip Russell, M.D., who is professor emeritus of international health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.  This program is open to young investigators from the School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Health System, Bloomberg, the Whiting School of Engineering and the Applied Physics Lab.  The grant is designed to provide an incentive for young investigators to consider the needs of those connected to the military when designing research projects.  This program has resulted in research projects addressing such areas as traumatic brain injury, suicidal behavior in military service members, and transplant rejection. 

Currently, the MVHI is working to develop connections with the Uniformed Services University. One potential connection is a global health certificate online program offered by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Another educational angle being engaged by the MVHI is the Senior Undergraduate Mechanical Engineering Design Program.  A team of students from the Whiting School of Engineering won first place at the program’s Senior Design Day and then presented their project at the 2014 Military Health System Research Symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  Their project developed a better way to control heat and perspiration inside the socket of a prosthetic limb for amputees participating in endurance sports.  Through this program, future researchers can become engaged with the military while still in undergraduate programs and perhaps gear their graduate research towards projects that would work well with the military, while gaining an appreciation for how to best navigate the DoD research funding maze.

The more time that the MVHI has to work with the various portions of the JH institutions, the farther its reach will go.  As Dr. Gilman indicated, Hopkins faculty and staff are genuinely patriotic, many want to see the institution stay engaged with these issues for the long haul.  As research institutions seek to find new funding sources, the MVHI represents an additional opportunity to provide avenues for both senior faculty and for students and junior faculty to apply their knowledge to projects designed for the betterment of the lives of service members, veterans and military families.  Additionally, by thinking outside the box, there may be opportunities to utilize existing ideas already floating around the JH community. 

Dr. Gilman and Ms. Zarrabi are indeed well suited for their tasks. Navigating the corridors of the various institutions at JH requires skill, tact and the ability to communicate with people who generally are the top in their field, asking them to commit to something outside the box, to consider a new way of thought, and potentially yield power to an outside force.  Being a military leader taught Dr. Gilman the importance of looking at what you say and what you do through the eyes of the people you are trying to lead.  The differences between the various schools at JH are akin to the differences between the various branches of our nation’s military. Having been in a position to observe these differences in his prior career, Dr. Gilman can apply this skill here. Ms. Zarrabi, having arrived here at the age of 6 from a country with a vastly different culture and language, has had to learn how to quickly adapt to new environments.  As a result, she brings a sense of pride and dedication to the job that is unique to her experiences.  Together, this team is prepared to open a new set of doors for Johns Hopkins that will propel us to the forefront of institutions seeking to give something back to those who have sacrificed so much to keep us safe and able to do what we do.


Did You Know?
  • In 1893 Florence Bascomb became the University's first female PhD.
  • Christine Ladd-Franklin was the first woman to earn a PhD at Hopkins, in mathematics in 1882. The trustees denied her the degree and refused to change the policy about admitting women; she finally received her degree 44 years later.
  • As of 2009-2010, the undergraduate population was 47% female and 53% male.
  • Hopkins researchers took the first color photograph of the whole earth from space in 1967.
  • Hopkins researchers confirmed the authenticity of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948.
  • In 1948 Hopkins researchers discovered Dramamine's effectiveness in alleviating motion sickness.
  • Kelly Miller was the first African American to attend Johns Hopkins University. Admitted as a graduate student in mathematics in 1887.
  • In 1890, five Baltimore women, four of them daughters of Hopkins trustees, organized the Women's Fund Committee. Martha Carey Thomas, Mary Elizabeth Garrett, Mary Gwinn, Elizabeth King, and Julia Rogers raised money needed to establish the School of Medicine with the condition that the school accept women.
  • In 1999, Johns Hopkins University became one of the first major institutions to offer same-sex domestic partner benefits to employees.
  • The Diversity Leadership Council presented the first annual Diversity Leadership Awards in 2003.
  • The Diversity Leadership Council organized the first Diversity Conference in 2004.
  • There are 36 Nobel Prize winners associated with Johns Hopkins University.
  • More than 10,000 University alumni currently live in 162 countries.
  • Johns Hopkins international research and training sites, programs, and offices are in 134 countries.
  • In 1947, Ralph Young, M.D. became the first black medical doctor at Johns Hopkins. He was a syphilis expert and was appointed by A.M. Harvey, M.D., head of the Department of Medicine.
  • The Hopkins Center for Social concern provides a base for more than 50 student-run programs that serve Baltimore communities.  In 2009-2010, more than 1,500 students performed nearly 80,000 hours of volunteer work through these programs.
  • Vivien Thomas, a medical technician to Surgeon-in-Chief, Alfred Blalock, M.D., was one of the most famous blacks at Johns Hopkins. He trained surgical residents and is recognized for techniques he perfected in treating congenital heart defects.
  • Roland Smoot, M.D. became the first black physician with admitting privileges at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1965. He was the son of a post office employee and a domestic worker.
  • Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, M.D. Dr. Q, is a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins and author of "Becoming Dr. Q." When he was just 19, Dr. Q jumped the border fence between Mexico and the United States and labored as a farm worker until he could save enough to earn an education and become a U.S. Citizen.
  • Johns Hopkins enrolls undergraduates from all 50 states and more than 71 nations.
  • The seminar method of instruction was introduced in the United States by a Johns Hopkins University postdoctoral student.
  • The JH Sheridan Libraries and Museums have 4,395,668 volumes on its shelves.
  • In 1879 Hopkins researchers discovered the sweetening agent saccharin.
  • In 2004 Hopkins researchers sent a spacecraft to Mercury to orbit the planet and see, for the first time, the majority of Mercury's surface.
  • The Peabody Conservatory collaborated with the National University of Singapore to create the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, Singapore's first and only conservatory of music.
  • Gertrude Stein studied at the School of Medicine from 1897-1902, though she did not receive a degree.
  • In 1991 Estelle Fishbein, former University General Counsel, became Johns Hopkins' first female vice president.
  • In 2011, the LGBT Community at Johns Hopkins joined the OUTList on National Coming Out Day.
  • The first three JHU bachelor's degrees were conferred in spring 1879.
  • There are more than 25 undergraduate multicultural student organizations at Johns Hopkins.
  • The Diversity Leadership Council has representation from all major Johns Hopkins University entities, Johns Hopkins Health System, and the Applied Physics Laboratory.
  • The Diversity Leadership Council has more than 40 members, who represent more than 30 departments and all campuses.
  • The Mosaic Initiative is the first University-wide Initiative to focus on the recruitment and retention of individuals that are under-represented in the JHU faculty including women and persons of color, across all divisions and units.
  • JHU age demographics are slowly changing: Our age demographics have shifted, with Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960) and Traditionalists (born before 1943) leaving our workforce while Gen X (born 1961-1981) and Gen Y (born after 1981) joining in greater numbers.

    Staff are the youngest, Deans/Executives are the oldest: In the second quarter of 2012, the average age of Deans/Executives is 55, Professorial Faculty is 50, Bargaining Unit is 49, Senior Staff is 46, Non-Professorial Faculty is 45, and Staff is 42.