HomeVoteSecretary-Treasurer ▶ J. Usha Raj, MD
J. Usha Raj, MD

I am the Anjuli S. Nayak Endowed Professor of Pediatrics and Neonatology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Previously I was the Head of the Department of Pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital at UIC and prior to that Chief of Neonatology and Co-Director of the Perinatal Research Center at Harbor-UCLA. After a pediatric residency at the University of Bombay, India, I completed a clinical fellowship in Neonatology at Tulane University, followed by a research fellowship at the Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of California, San Francisco. I joined the faculty at UCSF in 1982 and moved to UCLA in 1984.

My research in studying the pathogenesis of pulmonary hypertension has been funded by the NHLBI for 31 years. My research has been recognized by the ATS with the Recognition Award for Scientific Accomplishment, the Elizabeth Rich Award, and the Distinguished Achievement Award. I was honored by the American Physiological Society with the Julius H. Comroe Jr. Distinguished Lectureship, the highest recognition from its Respiration Section.  My success in research is in large part due to many outstanding ATS fellows and young faculty who have worked with me.  My research has been a team effort, similar to the way I would like to provide leadership for ATS. I believe it is important to study the continuum of disease, from fetal origins, progression through childhood and the full expression of disease in the adult and aging lung. I have a strong interest in reducing disparity in health in the U.S. and in education and mentoring, particularly of women and members of the under-represented minorities.

Vision for the ATS

My vision for the ATS is to achieve its goal of eradicating lung disease from the U.S. and the world. My top goals for the ATS are first to increase support for research by actively raising funds for the ATS Foundation; second, to increase ATS membership with greater diversity in its membership and to facilitate greater engagement among its various constituents, third to emphasize the importance of pediatrics in the ATS mission, fourth to increase opportunities for women in ATS to assume leadership positions, and fifth to expand the global reach of the ATS so that we can fulfill our mission as a truly international Society and eventually eradicate lung disease both in the U.S. and the world.

Responses to key questions.

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

My longstanding relationship and knowledge of the ATS, my experience from past leadership positions and my dedication and passion for advancing the missions of the ATS make me well qualified to serve as ATS president. My career trajectory has paralleled the missions of the American Thoracic Society. Throughout my career I have received support from the ATS. Now I want to give back. My various roles within the ATS have taught me well how to work with many different ATS members and groups. I have learned that one must keep the goals and mission of the organization at the forefront, understand the culture of the institution, work with all the key constituents and bring about consensus and lead with a clear articulation of the path to achieving that vision. My own success as a researcher has come by working as a team with outstanding fellows and junior faculty and I will provide leadership to the ATS similarly, by working as a team.

Over the past 34 years I have worked with the Pulmonary Circulation Assembly, Pulmonary and Critical Care Training, Honors and Awards, Revenue Development, Strategic Research Planning, Research Advocacy, and the Scientific Advisory board. I have also served as an Associate Editor of the American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology. I was an executive council member of the American Physiological Society and in that capacity interacted with other societies and therefore know how to work with others to promote the goals of the ATS. I am continuing to enhance my leadership skills as I complete an Executive Master’s in Health Care this year.

2.  What are your top three goals for the ATS and how would you implement them

Support research of respiratory and sleep disorders

I will actively raise funds and support the mission of the ATS Foundation to assist young researchers and provide bridge funding for established ones. I will advocate very strongly for more support from the NIH and other federal funding agencies for research.

Increase ATS membership with greater diversity and engagement

To maintain the ATS as a vital and growing organization, I will seek to increase membership by recruiting young members, members from underrepresented minorities and from other non-traditional disciplines. I will also work with all constituencies to keep them engaged with the ATS in ways that meets both needs and will always communicate with them. And as part of the commitment to diversity in the ATS, I will provide active support for women to achieve leadership positions.

Expand the global reach of the ATS

We are an international Society and our reach in the developing countries can be strengthened by developing more cooperative programs that serve to educate our partners as well as assist them in implementing public health programs in their countries to eradicate lung disease. In addition to existing programs, by tele-conferencing and by directly partnering with local leaders, we can reach more health care providers and researchers worldwide.

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

The ATS has many strengths but I see the following as the main ones: a) the ATS has understood the great importance of bringing together basic scientists with clinicians of all disciplines (physicians, nurses, therapists) and clinician-scientists to foster major leaps forward in our triple mission; b) the international reach of this society is unprecedented compared to other societies; c) the major role we play in advocacy for respiratory and sleep disorders both on capitol hill as well as within our communities.

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

The ATS could do much more in engaging and supporting the junior and budding members of our community of researchers and clinicians. We need to be innovative in some of our programming so to engage the millennial generation. Also, we could promote a more cooperative working together of members from the diverse constituencies of the ATS (MD, PhD, RN, social workers, therapists).

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

With the new leadership in Washington D.C., it is imperative for us to continue to promote our agenda of improving the health of all people in the U.S., including poor children, the under-served minorities and our veterans. I believe that ATS leaders can play an active role with the new administration in developing policies that would impact positively on our agenda. I also see an opportunity to continue to advocate for greater funding for the elimination of respiratory diseases as we advocate for health to be a top priority with our new president.

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

Decreased funding for research and decreased reimbursements for health care will impact the future of the ATS. Hence support of the Foundation with more fund raising will be critical in the immediate future. Another threat is the rapidly changing U.S. population demographics such that we may not be keeping up with the training of health care providers and researchers that represent the population we serve. We need to be nimble and keep our focus on the diseases that impact the emerging groups in the U.S. so as to not fall behind in our mission, including pediatric diseases like asthma, cystic fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension that then become diseases to be managed throughout their adult life.

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

Over the years the global reach of the ATS has continued to grow. MECOR, Global Scholars Program, Forum of International Respiratory Societies, are some of the programs. We should continue to expand the global role by a) developing more cooperative programs that serve to educate our partners in other countries; b) by establishing meaningful clinical programs that will reduce the burden of respiratory disease in developing countries; and c) by creating innovative educational programs on-line, by tele-conferencing and by directly partnering with local leaders, that can reach health care providers and researchers worldwide.

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

ATS leadership should determine how best to advocate for its membership by listening closely to its members and asking them to articulate what they need and how best we can support them. The millennials have different needs from the older generations. Likewise, members of different disciplines want to be engaged in all aspects of the ATS and we must make sure that they have the opportunity to do so. Multidisciplinary teams and committees can be formed and engagement between assemblies strongly encouraged.

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

I am most proud of my achievement in rebuilding the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Illinois at Chicago and of helping create the Children’s Hospital at the University of Illinois. I was able to recruit outstanding faculty whose mission is to serve the underserved. I raised the NIH ranking of the Department to be second in Chicago, I added three new fellowship programs and all the training programs, including the core pediatric program, received 10 year accreditation from ACGME.

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

This opportunity to serve as a leader in the ATS is very timely as I just relinquished a busy administrative position and have not as yet taken on any new one. If I am successful in obtaining the position of secretary-treasurer of the ATS I will make my leadership role the major focus of my work over the next several years.

Click here to view Dr. Raj's CV.

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Last Reviewed: February 2017