HomeVoteSecretary-Treasurer ▶ John Balmes, MD
John Balmes, MD

I am professor of medicine at UCSF and professor in the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley. I earned my MD and did my residency in internal medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. My post-doctoral pulmonary fellowship was at Yale. Since 1986, my clinical work as a pulmonologist and intensivist has been at San Francisco General Hospital (now Zuckerberg SFGH). Working at SFGH during the height of the AIDS epidemic was a defining experience for me, and I am proud to practice with colleagues who provide the highest level of evidence-based care to underserved populations in San Francisco. My work has always been guided by a vision of social justice.

For over 35 years my research has been on the effects of occupational and environmental agents on respiratory health. I have led both controlled human exposure studies and large population-based studies. In recent years I have been active in research on the important global health problem of household air pollution. I am proud of the accomplishment of my mentees: medical students, residents, fellows, and graduate students. In 2016 I was deeply honored to be recognized by my peers in the ATS Environmental, Occupational and Population Health (EOPH) Assembly with the John M. Peters Award for “Leadership, Research, and Devoted Service to the Pursuit of Respiratory Health.”

I have been a member of the ATS since 1980. I am interested in joining the leadership team because I believe I have the experience and vision to help the Society move into a successful future. My vision for the ATS is to maintain its reputation for scientific excellence, while developing a more nimble approach to meet the professional and scientific challenges of our membership. We need to advocate for evidence-based approaches to the complex problems of quality and equity of respiratory health care delivery in the U.S., and globally. Effective policy, whether it be to establish rational health care financing in the U.S., strengthen health care systems in low and middle-income countries (LMIC), or control air quality and mitigate climate change, must be based on actual facts, not alternative ones. We need to recruit young U.S. and international members by providing value to membership. Once recruited, we need to mentor new members for success in the ATS and their careers in pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine.

I have been an ATS board member, chair of the EOPH Scientific Assembly, chair of the EOPH Program Committee, and I have served on the EOPH Long-Range Planning Committee. I have also been chair of the ATS Nominating, Publication Policy, and Environmental Health Policy Committees. I have been a lead or contributing author on multiple ATS Statements. Since 2015 I have been associate editor of the AJRCCM. I am a member of both the European Respiratory and Pan-African Thoracic Societies. I have considerable experience working with legislators and other policymakers, in both California and at the national level, and I have a long working relationship with the ATS Government Relations office in D.C. Moreover, I am contributing to efforts to form a multi-country consortium for the development of interventions to improve respiratory health in Africa. Also in 2016, I was deeply honored to receive the ATS Public Service Award.

If elected, I can bring my experience as a clinician, researcher, medical educator, and policymaker to the leadership of the ATS to make progress towards the goal of improved respiratory health around the world.

1. What qualifies you to be the ATS officer and what personal leadership qualities would you bring to this role?

The multiple positions of responsibility that I have held in the ATS have given me the organizational experience to be an effective officer. I also have leadership experience outside the ATS as chief of an academic division, director of a multi-campus center, and director of a unique joint UC Berkeley-UCSF medical education program. My leadership style is effective because I have good interpersonal communication skills and foster collective decision-making. Above all, I lead with transparency, honesty, and accountability.

2. The ATS Executive Committee works collaboratively to direct the ATS; can you describe how you have worked collaboratively to accomplish leadership?

The two programs that I currently lead both involve multiple components with individual leaders. I strive to achieve consensus regarding strategic direction and policy change. I believe that I have become skilled at leading meetings to move strategic and policy discussions forward in a collaborative spirit.

3. What would you identify as strengths of the ATS?

To me, our strengths include the ATS Journals, annual International Conference, our credibility as a professional and scientific society that advocates for research and evidence-based policies, and above all, our membership.

4. What would you identify as weaknesses of the ATS?

The major weakness that I see is the continued U.S.-centric focus of the organization. If we truly want to be an international society, we need to re-tool our organization to be more relevant to the research and clinical education needs, as well as policy concerns, of countries other than the U.S. and Canada, especially LMIC. Other weaknesses include an organizational structure and culture that is not particularly easy for early career pulmonary/critical care/sleep physicians and scientists to navigate, and also a revenue base that may be too dependent on our journals and conference.

5. What do see as present and future opportunities for the ATS?

We need to capture the interest of young pulmonary/critical care/sleep medicine physicians and scientists. It is the next generation that the ATS needs to excite to have a successful future. To do so, we have to become much better in the online space, both regarding ATS news communication, and our journals. We need to enhance research grant opportunities and ATS mentoring offerings. The ATS is a respected organization, but we could be a stronger voice for advocacy on many key issues, which I alluded to above.

6. What are some of the threats you see to the ATS now and in the future?

The gradual outmoding of print journals, potential decreased enthusiasm for international travel to the conference, and limited sources of revenue, are threats that I see.

7. What role should ATS play as an international organization?

The ATS has a high-level profile, in terms of the quality of the science presented through the Society, but I think we could be more welcoming to participants from LMIC. If we want to have a major international voice then we need to move away from our current U.S.-centric structure. We need to do better to address the clinical concerns and continuing education needs of our international members.

8. What should the ATS do for its membership and how would you advocate for the membership?

I think we should continue to provide more updates of clinical practice information to our non-academically based membership in the Annals of the ATS, the International Conference, and on the Web. We should also make it easier to receive CME credit. For our academic membership, we should enhance medical education programming and make it available internationally.

9. Can you give an example of a leadership accomplishment of which you are particularly proud?

When I took over leadership of the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program, it was in severe budget deficit and faced potential closure. I led an effective advocacy effort to rally students, faculty, and alumni, involving traditional and social media campaigns, as well as lobbying decision-makers. I am proud to say that the program was saved.

10. How do you envision making time for this new leadership role?

If elected to be ATS Secretary-Treasurer, I would turn over a multi-year research contract and pass the baton of a center directorship to faculty colleagues. At this point in my career, I am ready to give back to the ATS, an organization that has afforded me innumerable opportunities.

Click here to view Dr. Balmes's CV.

Last Reviewed: March 2018