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Dr. Mark Cohen

Dr. Mark Cohen

Dean, Carle Illinois College of Medicine | Senior VP and chief academic officer, Carle Health

A tip for anyone who ever finds themselves on the opposite side of an interview table with the dean of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine: Think about how you’ll answer the following question, the most important one Dr. Mark S. Cohen poses to job candidates.

“If they were to get this job they are interviewing for, and stay in it until they retire, what would they like to be their greatest impact of their career in that position?

“I ask this question to see if the candidate focuses on their own accomplishments they want to achieve or on the legacy and people they will develop during their time here, who will make an even bigger impact than they would as an individual.”

The Hammond, Ind., native with two degrees from St. Louis’ Washington University and a decade of experience on the faculty at Michigan was hired to succeed King Li as dean in 2022.

It was a whirlwind of a first year for Cohen, who this spring was on hand to watch his daughter graduate from Wash. U and his UI-bound son receive his diploma from Skyline High in Ann Arbor.

In July 2023, Cohen, who doubles as Carle Health’s senior vice president and chief academic officer, took park in The News-Gazette's weekly "Beyond the Boardroom" feature, spotlighting leaders of organizations big and small.

My professional role models are ... my pediatrician as a kid, Dr. Allen Sokol, and my first surgical mentor, Dr. Jeffrey Moley.

As a kid suffering from childhood asthma, I was seeing my pediatrician several times a month growing up. He was always compassionate and made a scared kid feel at ease. He never talked down to you and you always felt like you were in great hands.

To this day, I try to emulate that with my patients and ease their fears and anxiety about their disease and make sure to explain things to them so they can understand their treatment and recommendations.

Dr. Moley taught me the joys and humility of being a surgeon and caring for surgical patients as well as always asking how we can do things better. That innovative spirit carries with me whenever I am with patients or trying to solve a problem in health care or in my research laboratory.

My philosophy on meetings is ... they need to be more efficient and provide opportunities for important stakeholder discussion. As such, I removed several less-useful meetings this year and made others more efficient and allow for more critical team-based discussion.

The hardest thing about being a leader is … it can be a lonely position sometimes. Also, as a leader, it is vital to promote wellness and a culture where everyone can thrive, but this can be challenging at times in the midst of organizational growth, financial pressures and a workplace that functions differently after a global pandemic.

I can’t live without … this year, it’s been my reMarkable digital notebook. I finally am able to keep all my meeting notes organized and in one place instead of the numerous pieces of paper and notebooks I used to keep around. It’s been a game-changer for organization.

The three adjectives I hope my staff would use to describe me are … authentic, approachable and collaborative.

On my office walls, you’ll find … our new five-year strategic plan as well as our mission/vision/values for the College of Medicine. It literally takes up half the wall.

I put this on the wall to always remember that whatever decisions we make need to be aligned with that north star of our values and mission and strategy for success.

I’m frugal in that … I still have some clothes in my closet older than my grown children. I also drive a Prius and an electric plug-in. Climate change is something we all should be thinking about on a regular basis.

If I could trade places for a week with any other business person in town, I wouldn’t mind switching with … either Jim Leonard, CEO of Carle Health, or Robert Jones, chancellor of UIUC. Both have incredible jobs and are making tremendous impacts in our community and beyond.

Although I am not so sure if they would want to take my job for a week if we switched.

When it comes to my one unbreakable rule of the workplace … I try not to set unbreakable rules but rather want the workplace to be a thriving environment where people can communicate effectively, collaborate authentically and where we can all work together to grow opportunities and manage challenges to the organization.

The first thing I do when I get to work most days is … answer emails and look through my lists of things that need to get done that day and that week while I drink a cup of coffee or tea so I can prioritize my day appropriately and find time for some much needed micro-breaks to stretch or take a short walk in the campus quad.

I wind down after work by … cooking dinner and listening to music. There’s something very relaxing about both.

The last luxury in which I indulged was ... a vacation in the Galapagos Islands and Quito, Ecuador. One of the most amazing places in the world and I definitely would recommend it to anyone interested in going.

The most beneficial college class I took was … Organic Chemistry at Washington University. It was the hardest class I ever had in my life. It was designed as a weed-out class for premedical students — of which there were many — and Professor Kurz designed the course and the exams to be so difficult that half the class scored less then 20 percent of the exam questions correct.

It was a daunting class, but he also had one rule in the class, which was that the final exam was comprehensive, so regardless of your score on the exams during the semester, if your final exam score was higher than your average up to that point, your final grade would be the higher score of the final exam.

This class taught me resilience, to ask for help when I didn’t understand something and to work with my classmates more to brainstorm challenging problems.

I use these same skills all the time and teach my students the importance of cognitive diversity in solving bigger problems that you need collective input on or that you are having trouble getting through on your own.

The last good book I read was … “Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times,” by Donald Phillips.

Thank you for the recommendation, Matt Kolb.

I’m up and at ’em every day … between 6 and 6:30 a.m.

My exercise routine consists of … getting up early doing some stretches and going for a walk outside or jog on my treadmill. Also try to do some weights two to three times a week.

I’ve known I wanted to be a physician since … I was in high school. I always wanted to take care of patients with cancer — ever since I lost both my grandparents to this disease.

This particular job was not even on my radar 18 months ago so when I got the email from the search firm, it really got my attention. Then, when I came to the campus, I fell in love with the school and the amazing job that was being offered. The rest has been a wonderful and incredibly busy first year.

The first job I ever had was … as a golf caddy through the Evan’s Scholars program at a local country club from ages 12 to 16.

The worst job I ever had was ... in high school, when I worked at a local grocery store, helping with stocking shelves and with stocking the meat and produce counter.

I remember having to be there at 6 a.m. every day during the summer between junior and senior year of high school to go into the blast freezer all morning to take out ground beef and cuts of meat for the local butchers, and my fingers going numb by the end of the morning — all for $3.50 an hour.

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