Out of the Ivory TowerOverlapping speech bubbles with a star and clicking mouse pointer

Around the hallways of Johns Hopkins Hospital, cardiologist Stephen C. Achuff was legendary for the deep relationships he formed with patients, his mentorship of trainees and his insightful leadership as director of adult cardiology clinical programs.

Now retired, Achuff remains active as ever, but there’s a standing date on his calendar that he tries never to miss: CIM Seminars, held on Tuesday afternoons at 4 p.m. via Zoom.

At each session, a keynote researcher whose Johns Hopkins work is supported by the Center for Innovative Medicine takes 30 to 40 minutes to share the scope and progress of that work in an accessible TED Talk-like way. Subjects range widely: from the genetics of aging, to the well-being of incarcerated pregnant women, to the importance of humanizing medical care. Then the floor is open for questions, and a lively back-and-forth ensues.

“As a retired clinical doctor, these subjects on a wide range of topics are of great interest to me,” says Achuff. “They keep me up to date and they are challenging to me because they often introduce me to new knowledge — such as the latest on chronic Lyme disease or artificial intelligence. Sure, I’d heard about artificial intelligence, but until the CIM seminar, I really didn’t understand its potential for patient care.”

When CIM Director David Hellmann first launched the CIM Seminars series, the meetings were held in his office at Johns Hopkins Bayview. This limited participation to just 25 or 30 people — primarily fellow doctors with expertise and interest in the seminar topic. Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, out of necessity for safety, Hellmann moved the seminar series online, which opened the door to vastly expand the list of invitees.

The CIM Seminars allow Hopkins’ leading doctors to engage in conversation with members of the public, who then go on to share what they learn with friends and family. — Stephen C. Achuff

“It’s been immensely gratifying to see how attendance has just taken off. We’ve gone from a few dozen people in my office to sometimes more than 200 or 250 people participating online,” says Hellmann. “And we’ve been able to invite a much broader array of participants, including patients, donors and former faculty members who want to stay connected to Johns Hopkins and informed about the latest research and findings in clinical care.”

Achuff, of course, falls into that latter category. And though he put a premium on face-to-face encounters with patients and colleagues throughout his career, he sees a real value in the Zoom format of the CIM Seminars.

“It’s terrific,” he says. “I much prefer being able to sit with a cup of coffee in our apartment in Baltimore, or our home at the beach, and think deeply as I listen. It takes you away from the hurly-burly of medicine and practice, which can be so stressful.”

Given the level of medical misinformation plaguing our society today, Achuff also thinks it’s critical to bring accurate health information out of the “ivory tower” of academic medicine and into the homes of non-scientists. The CIM Seminars, he notes, allow Hopkins’ leading doctors to engage in conversation with members of the public, who then go on to share what they learn with friends and family.

Says Hellmann, “I have been so gratified by the conversations that unfold during the question-and-answer part of the presentations. These exchanges are a wonderful example of the way the Center for Innovative Medicine is fulfilling its mission of advancing medicine as a public trust.”