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John Hogness, first president of Institute of Medicine; at 85

JOHN HOGNESS JOHN HOGNESS (file/university of washington)

LOS ANGELES -- Dr. John Hogness, the first president of the Institute of Medicine who shaped it into an unbiased critic of the US health care system, died July 2 of heart and kidney failure at the University of Washington's Wallingford retirement center. He was 85.

The announcement was made by the university, where Dr. Hogness served as dean of the medical school, vice president of health sciences and, ultimately, president.

The Institute of Medicine in Washington was a creation of the National Academy of Sciences, which was chartered by Congress in 1863 to provide advice on all facets of science. In the 1960s, the academy concluded that the burgeoning growth of medical research and treatments required a dedicated organization, and the institute was formed in 1970. Dr. Hogness took office with a handful of prestigious physicians as members and a single staffer.

Dr. Hogness "had no precedents to follow, and that suited him well," said Harvey V. Fineberg, institute president. "What he did from the outset was set a high standard for excellence in our work and to translate into practice the values of independent judgment, balanced expertise and neutral convening power that guide the [institute] to this day."

Dr. Hogness pledged that the institute would operate "without an ax to grind in terms of a specific constituency."

He worked to keep the organization apolitical, resisting the pleas of lawmakers who wanted the institute to support various bills related to medical issues. He vowed that the institute would speak out on issues only when it could do so in an authoritative voice.

During Dr. Hogness's tenure, President Nixon declared a "war on cancer," and one byproduct of the campaign was the proposed establishment of the National Cancer Institute as a separate body from the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Hogness played a key role in keeping the NCI within the NIH, where he thought it would function more effectively.

Dr. Hogness also initiated a study of the actual costs of medical education, the first such study.

He was a widely published commentator on the US healthcare system and on challenges facing medical schools, health professional schools, and teaching hospitals. Dr. Hogness was particularly interested in advancing the roles of nurses and physician assistants.

He left his institute post after three years to become president of the University of Washington during a period marked by a variety of problems and confrontations with students.

His proudest accomplishment as president, he later said, was the establishment of a regional medical program that encompassed five northwestern states -- Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. Of those, only Washington had a medical school.

Young physicians in training at Washington spend time working throughout the region with the goal of eventually entering practice there. Other universities have since emulated the program.

John Rusten Hogness was born in Oakland. His father, Thorfin, was a physical chemist who helped develop the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project, then taught at the University of Chicago, where Dr. Hogness received his undergraduate and medical degrees.

After a stint in the Army and an internship at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, he took a post as chief medical resident at King County Hospital, now Harborview Medical Center, in Seattle.

His first wife, Katharine, died in 2004. Dr. Hogness leaves his second wife, Margaret; three daughters, Karen Hogness of Charlemont, Mass., Suze Rutherford and Jody Hazen of Snoqualmie, Wash.; two sons, Rusten of Santa Cruz and David, United Arab Emirates; and four stepchildren, Tyler, Peg, Terry, and Tom.