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Episode 32 – A Voice for Physician Leadership: Essential, Courageous and Magical


My guest this week is national healthcare leader Dr. Jack Cochran. As CEO of the Permanente Federation, he was the top national leader for over 20,000 physicians who cared for more than 10 million people in their Kaiser Permanente medical practices. In this animated conversation, the inspiring and articulate Dr. Cochran describes his non-linear and unexpected path to executive leadership and international activism on behalf of excellent and accessible healthcare.

In his early days as a practicing plastic surgeon, Jack encountered the healthcare system in a different way when his parents became ill.  As he says, “four years of medical school, six years of surgery residency, five years of practicing surgery, did nothing to prepare me to be the son of dying parents.” This pivotal time changed him.  Jack’s appreciation for all caregivers, especially nurses, led to the creation of nursing programs and a nursing scholarship that has endured for 33 years.

We worked together when he was selected for his first CEO role which prompts Jack to recall both his trepidation and his gratitude during this initiation into leadership. Encouragement from well-respected leaders who had “courage, values and substance” inspired Jack to take on a role which he says he was not prepared for.

Quick to call himself naïve at the time, Jack began his executive role with a listening tour, speaking personally with 500 physicians, 4-5 at a time throughout the region.  What Jack heard, was shaped into the 3 constants: 

  • Preserve and enhance the physician career
  • Streamline the care process
  • Optimize the care experience

Determined to change the culture, Jack thoughtfully selected his executive team. This diverse group was made up of passionate, respected clinicians who were determined to keep the patient at the center of their decisions. The “Colorado turnaround” resulted in transformation of the organization’s reputation, finances, quality, service—and at the root of it all—remarkably ramped-up physician engagement.

 When asked how important physician leadership in the C-Suite is he pauses before he responds:

“I’m trying to find a way to be thoughtfully objective and I’m having trouble.

 I think it’s essential. Essential.”

Quotable Jack:

  • Physicians are not more important, but we are disproportionately impactful.
  • Medical education and the resulting MD and DO degrees are a “pluripotent professional preparation” for leadership.
  • Difference has to be a differentiator.
  • When you are offered a leadership role: Don’t lean your ladder against the wrong wall.
  • Complexity has made specialty care more primary and primary care more special.
  • Be very, very careful when people tell you what cannot be done.  Be very suspect of advice that tells you exactly why things can’t get done or won’t get done… or are impossible.

Meet Jack Cochran, MD   

Dr. Jack Cochran is an innovative leader who has inspired countless physicians and healthcare workers, and driven health care transformation on a national level. He is a plastic surgeon, acclaimed leader, author, consultant, and international speaker.

He led the Permanente Federation which represents the national interests of the regional Permanente Medical Groups, which employ 20,000 physicians caring for more than 10 million Kaiser Permanente members. During his tenure as CEO, Kaiser Permanente was recognized as a national leader in clinical quality by the Medicare Star program and the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA).

Prior to his national role, Dr. Cochran served as Executive Medical Director, President, and Chairman of the Board of the Colorado Permanente Medical Group (CPMG). He led physicians through the transformation of a culture faced with financial challenges as well as declining membership, and poor physician and patient satisfaction.

Philanthropy has long been a part of Dr. Cochran’s life. He has volunteered his reconstructive surgery and consulting services in Third World countries, aiding underserved populations in Nicaragua, the Philippines, Ecuador, Tanzania, and Nepal. He is also a past president of the Consortium for Community Centered Comprehensive Child Care (C6), a foundation that has built hospitals in East Africa. He is a vocal advocate for nurses and oversees the Lois and John Cochran Education Award, an annual scholarship given to oncology nurses at the Lutheran Medical Center in Denver, Colorado.

Dr. Cochran earned his medical degree from the University of Colorado and served residencies at Stanford University Medical Center and the University of Wisconsin Hospital. He is board certified in otolaryngology (head and neck surgery) and in plastic and reconstructive surgery.


Website: https://jackcochranmd.com/

Books:  https://jackcochranmd.com/books/

LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/jackcochranmd/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JackHCochran