John G. Bartlett, MD, professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a prominent leader and instructor in infectious disease medicine, died January 19 at age 83. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed.
Bartlett is remembered by colleagues for his wide range of infectious disease expertise, an ability to repeatedly predict emerging issues in the field, and for inspiring students and trainees to choose the same specialty.
“What I consistently found so extraordinary about John was his excitement for ID — the whole field. He had a wonderful sixth sense about what was going to be the next ‘big thing,’ ” Paul Edward Sax, MD, clinical director of the Infectious Disease Clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, told Medscape Medical News.
“He thoroughly absorbed the emerging research on the topic and then provided the most wonderful clinical summaries,” Sax said. “His range of expert content areas was unbelievably broad.” Bartlett was “a true ID polymath.”
Bartlett was “a giant in the field of infectious diseases,” David Lee Thomas, MD, MPH, told Medscape Medical News. He agreed that Bartlett was a visionary who could anticipate the most exciting developments in the specialty.
Bartlett also “led the efforts to combat the foes, from HIV to antimicrobial resistance,” said Thomas, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases and professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
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A Pioneer in HIV Research and Care
Shortly after joining Johns Hopkins in 1980, he focused on HIV/AIDS research and caring for people with HIV. Bartlett led clinical trials of new treatments and developed years of HIV clinical treatment guidelines.
“Back when most hospitals, university medical centers, and ID divisions were running away from the AIDS epidemic, John took it on, both as a scientific priority and a moral imperative,” Sax writes in a blog post for NEJM Journal Watch. “With the help of Frank Polk and the Hopkins president, he established an outpatient AIDS clinic and an inpatient AIDS ward — both of which were way ahead of their time.”
In the same post, Sax pointed out that Bartlett was an expert in multiple areas — any one of which could be a sole career focus. “How many ID doctors are true experts in all of the following distinct topics? HIV, Clostridium difficile, respiratory tract infections, antimicrobial resistance, and anaerobic pulmonary infections,” Sax writes.
Expertise That Defined an Era
In a piece reviewing the long history of infectious disease medicine at Johns Hopkins published in Clinical Infectious Diseases in 2014, Paul Auwaerter, MD, and colleagues describe his tenure at the institution from 1980 to 2006 as “The Bartlett Era,” notable for the many advances he spearheaded.
“It is nearly impossible to find someone trained in infectious diseases in the past 30 years who has not been impacted by John Bartlett,” Auwaerter and colleagues note. “His tireless devotion to scholarship, teaching, and patient care remains an inspiration to his faculty members at Johns Hopkins, his colleagues, and coworkers around the world.”
Bartlett was not only a faculty member in the Division of Infectious Diseases, he also helped establish it. When he joined Johns Hopkins, the infectious disease department featured just three faculty members with a research budget of less than $285,000. By the time he left 26 years later, the division had 44 faculty members on tenure track and a research budget exceeding $40 million.
Sharing Memories via Social Media
Reactions to Bartlett’s passing on Twitter were swift.
“We have lost one of the greatest physicians I have ever met or had the privilege to learn from. Saddened to hear of Dr. John G. Bartlett’s passing. He inspired so many, including me, to choose the field of infectious diseases,” David Fisk, MD, infectious disease specialist in Santa Barbara, California, wrote on Twitter.
We have lost one of the greatest physicians I have ever met or had the privilege to learn from. Saddened to hear of Dr. John G. Bartlett’s passing. He inspired so many, including me, to choose the field of infectious diseases.
— david fisk (@davidfiskmd) January 20, 2021
“John Bartlett just died — a true visionary and the classic ‘Renaissance’ person in clinical ID. Such a nice guy, too! His IDSA/IDWeek literature summaries (among other things) were amazing. We’ll miss him!” Sax tweeted on January 19.
John Bartlett just died — a true visionary and the classic "Renaissance" person in clinical ID. Such a nice guy, too! His IDSA/IDWeek literature summaries (among other things) were amazing. We'll miss him! @IDSAInfo https://t.co/VYRjln6qDC
— Paul Sax (@PaulSaxMD) January 19, 2021
A colleague at Johns Hopkins, transplant infectious disease specialist Shmuel Shoham, MD, shared an anecdote about Bartlett on Twitter: “Year ago. My office is across from his. I ask him what he is doing. He tells me he is reviewing a file from the Vatican to adjudicate whether a miracle happened. True story.”
Year ago. My office is across from his. I ask him what he is doing. He tells me he is reviewing a file from the Vatican to adjudicate whether a miracle happened. True story.
— Shmuel Shoham (@ShohamTxID) January 19, 2021
Infectious disease specialist Graeme Forrest, MBBS, also shared a story about Bartlett via Twitter. “He described to me in 2001 how the US model of health care would not cope with a pandemic or serious bioterror attack as its not connected to disseminate information. How prescient from 20 years ago.”
He described to me in 2001 how the US model of health care would not cope with a pandemic or serious bioterror attack as its not connected to disseminate information. how prescient from 20 years ago
— Graeme Forrest (@Gnfidz) January 20, 2021
Bartlett shared his expertise at many national and international infectious disease conferences over the years. He also authored 470 articles, 282 book chapters, and 61 editions of 14 books.
Bartlett was also a regular contributor to Medscape Medical News. For example, he shared his expertise in perspective pieces that addressed priorities in antibiotic stewardship, upcoming infectious disease predictions, and critical infectious disease topics in a three-part series.
Bartlett’s education includes a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College in 1959 and an MD degree from Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, New York, in 1963. He did his first 2 years of residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
He also served as an Army captain from 1965 to 1967, treating patients in fever wards in Vietnam. He then returned to the United States to finish his internal medicine training at the University of Alabama in 1968.
Bartlett completed his fellowship in infectious diseases at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1975, he joined the faculty at Tufts University School of Medicine.
Leaving a Legacy
Bartlett’s influence will likely live on in many ways at Johns Hopkins.
“John is a larger-than-life legend whose impact will endure and after whom we are so proud to have named our clinical service, The Bartlett Specialty Practice,” Thomas said.
The specialty practice clinic named for him has 23 exam rooms and features multidisciplinary care for people with HIV, hepatitis, bone infections, general infectious diseases, and more. Furthermore, friends, family, and colleagues joined forces to create the “Dr. John G. Bartlett HIV/AIDS Fund.”
They note that it is “only appropriate that we honor him by creating an endowment that will provide support for young trainees and junior faculty in the division, helping them transition to their independent careers.”
In addition to all his professional accomplishments, “he was also a genuinely nice person, approachable and humble,” Sax said. “We really lost a great one!”
Damian McNamara is a staff journalist based in Miami. He covers a wide range of medical specialties, including infectious diseases, gastroenterology, and critical care. Follow Damian on Twitter: @MedReporter.