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On the morning of October 5, 2009, Mandy Krauthamer Cohen
dressed in a black suit fit for a day at the White House. As the
executive director for Doctors for America, a grassroots group of
16,000 physicians and medical students, she and 50 of the
organization's members from across the country had been invited to
meet with President Obama in the Rose Garden for the White Coat
Rally. It was an exhilarating day. In the Oval Office, after
meeting the president, she listened as he spoke about the
importance of physicians being involved in the policy making
process. The message resonated with everyone in the room. "The best
moment for me was watching the expressions of our members as the
president thanked and recognized each one of them personally for
their commitment to building a better health care system for our
country," she says. "That I would say has been one of my proudest
moments as a physician."
A Mother's Touch
In the midst of the most highly charged time of health care debate
in years, Doctors for America has gained momentum and membership at
mach speed for such a young organization. Compared to major U.S.
physician groups that are accustomed to the bright lights and
scrutiny, DFA is a relative infant-the AMA has a history of 163
years; ACP, 95. Like the organization itself, the leadership of DFA
is young; Dr. Cohen is thirty-one. In the past year, she has found
herself in the media a lot, including CBS and MSNBC to name a few,
not only voicing the views of the DFA membership, but more often
than not, in the middle of hotly contested debates. In these
interviews she is composed, articulate and well informed. She
prepares by reviewing current legislation and data.
But long before Dr. Cohen rubbed elbows with the president or
appeared on CNN, she decided to become a doctor, a process that
began back in Baldwin, New York many years ago. As a girl, she
would spend time listening to her mother talk about her overnight
shifts working as a nurse practitioner in an ER, and she remembers
the caring in her voice. "She always spoke of her love for her
patients," Dr. Cohen says, "and while she is very modest about how
hard she works, she has touched the lives of thousands of people in
her community. I remember how patients would stop her at a local
store or restaurant to thank her for taking care of them when they
were sick." Witnessing her mother help others in need infected her
with the desire to do the same. "My mother was a big influence on
me. I wanted to help people like she helped them-in times that were
hard for them, even if it meant just holding their hands," she
explains. "Internal medicine is personal and I like that."
Born to Lead
After completing her undergrad at Cornell University, Dr. Cohen
went to medical school at Yale, and three years into that, pursued
a master's degree in public health from Harvard. Her internship and
residency was spent at Massachusetts General Hospital. On her
curriculum vitae, Dr. Cohen's leadership experience reads just as
long if not longer than her actual work experience. She began in
2004, while still in medical school, taking a position with ACP's
National Council of Student Members. Since then, she has served on
several committees for Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in
primary care, quality assurance and recruitment. Most recently, she
has served as co-director for the Health Policy Elective at MGH, as
the northeast representative for ACP's National Council of
Associates, and as a founding member and national outreach director
for Doctors for Obama.
This experience has prepared her well for her current position.
A typical day for Dr. Cohen begins with reading and responding to
emails from physicians across the country. She then reads up on the
latest health care news, and often participates in several
conference calls with other professionals involved in reform. She
does a lot of writing, including blogs and op-eds. She says being
an internist is a good foundation for her work. "With internal
medicine, you have a broad perspective of medicine and the health
care system," she says, "and there are always new challenges every
day." She also credits her involvement in physician organizations
and community service for much of her success. "I think that being
involved in physician groups and other organizations and efforts is
important to professional growth because it helps you know what's
going on, and you can connect with colleagues from all over the
country," she says. "It gives you a broader sense of medicine."
The Ultimate Hobby
In between all of the talking, reading and writing, Dr. Cohen gets
back to the basics, the reason why she got into all of it in the
first place-patient care. "Much of what we're talking about in
legislation reform has to do with primary care," explains Dr.
Cohen. "The fact that I'm an internist has a lot to do with why I
can speak to these issues. It's all about bringing it back to the
patient." Dr. Cohen does her part bringing it back to the patient
every week when she volunteers at the Department of Veterans
Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Washington DC, something she says is
not only important for keeping her clinical skills fresh, but
because it gives her time to spend in patient care, which she
Working for the VA feels like home to her as well, as it was her
first job out of residency, working as the deputy director for
women's comprehensive health. In this role, she led an initiative
to review and improve the delivery of care to women veterans
throughout the country. Much of the work involved training and
teaching at VA centers. Dr. Cohen says working for the VA is an
absolute pleasure. "Working with women veterans was incredible,"
she says, "and from a career standpoint it was fascinating to work
in the largest health care system in the country, trying to
implement change. The VA system is already leaps and bounds ahead
in information technology and quality improvement, so to be on the
forefront of that was quite an opportunity."
When she's not working, Dr. Cohen likes to travel and spend time
outdoors with her husband, who is a lawyer. Recently they traveled
to Tuscany for their honeymoon. They like to cook as well, and they
play together on a recreational soccer team. Dr. Cohen had never
played soccer before, but her husband taught her how to play, and
she is giving it her best. But at the end of the day, what Dr.
Cohen really loves to do-what she feels passionate about-is her
job. Long before it was a necessity, she was an avid reader of
Politico, Roll Call and The New York Times. "Going to
work" never is a chore for her because she thrives in what she does
and is committed to it. "The greatest thing about my job is that it
feels like a hobby," she says. "There's a saying that when you love
what you do, you never work a day in your life. That's how it is
Check out previous
articles as physicians share what motivated them to become
physicians as well as why they chose their particular type of
January 2010 Issue of IMpact
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