Dr. John Hogness, 85; former university president, first head of Institute of Medicine

Times Staff Writer

Dr. John Hogness, the first president of the Institute of Medicine who shaped it into an unbiased critic of the nation’s healthcare 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 Hogness served as dean of the medical school, vice president of health sciences and, ultimately, as president.

The Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C., 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. Hogness took office with a handful of prestigious physicians as members and a single staffer.

He “had no precedents to follow, and that suited him well,” institute President Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg said. “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.


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 Congress members 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.

One early institute study, for example, involved the health effects of abortion. Hogness kept the committee members focused on the science, which could be well supported, and away from the ethics of the issue.

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

Hogness also initiated a study of the actual costs of medical education, the first such study to be conducted.

He was a widely published commentator on the U.S. healthcare system and on challenges facing medical schools, health professional schools and teaching hospitals. 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. On his first day in office, the federal government threatened to cancel all its grants within a month if the university did not overhaul its affirmative action programs.

Hogness successfully addressed the issues, but a month later, he faced a major campus protest when the political science department voted not to offer tenure to a Latino professor. After a sit-in and ransacking of several offices, Hogness and the university fired two prominent Latino leaders and suspended another implicated in the incidents.


That led to 20 more Latino staff members and faculty resigning in protest and more public demonstrations.

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 entering practice there. Other universities have since adopted similar programs.

John Rusten Hogness was born June 27, 1922, in Oakland. His father, Thorfin, was a physical chemist who helped develop the atomic bomb, then taught at the University of Chicago, where John 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 what is now Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, in part because his wife, Katharine, was from the region. He practiced endocrinology for seven years in the area, teaching part time at the university, before accepting a full-time post.

The 6-foot, 4-inch Hogness was said to have the stature of a football player. Colleagues said he was personable, easygoing and known for his sense of humor and informal manner.

“People liked John and John liked people,” Dr. Clement Finch, one of the original faculty members of the university’s school of medicine, wrote in his history of the medical school.

Hogness enjoyed fishing, hunting, sailing and acting in amateur theatricals. One of his better received performances was as the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz.”


His first wife, Katharine, died in 2004.

Hogness is survived by his second wife, Margaret; daughters Karen Hogness of Charlemont, Mass., Suze Rutherford and Jody Hazen of Snoqualmie, Wash.; sons Rusten, of Santa Cruz, and David, a physician in the United Arab Emirates; and stepchildren Tyler, Peg, Terry and Tom.