June 16, 2014

Mitch Cohen: Alabama’s pediatrician

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I was very pleased recently to announce that Dr. Mitch Cohen will be our next chair of Pediatrics and physician-in-chief at Children’s of Alabama, starting Sept. 1. He will succeed Dr. Sergio Stagno, a tremendous statesman and leader in pediatrics who will remain on faculty where he will continue to care for patients and influence current and future pediatricians. 

Cohen-Mitchell-Cohen LabMitch Cohen, M.D.Dr. Cohen is coming to UAB from Cincinnati Children’s, where he has built one of the most respected divisions of pediatric gastroenterology in the world. What is most compelling about Mitch is his grasp of the full mission of being an academic department chair – his willingness and ability to engage in depth with hospital leadership on continually improving the quality of patient care and outcomes, his experience recruiting and growing clinician-scientists and supporting basic scientists and his long history of educating residents and fellows.

I heard recently how important UAB Department of Pediatrics and Children’s of Alabama are to the state and the Southeast from people who can appreciate them most – parents. I was meeting with Leadership Alabama during their visit to Birmingham and many of the participants, from all walks of life, shared stories about their experiences at UAB. One story in particular stuck with me.

Gordon Martin, senior vice president and general counsel for Alabama Power, told us about his son Walker. Last year, when Walker was 3, he contracted respiratory syncytial virus, which can be very serious in young children.

“When your child can’t breathe, it’s one of those moments when you want to do everything you can for them,” Gordon says. “I don’t think people have an appreciation for what UAB and Children’s mean to Alabama unless they experience it firsthand or educate themselves about it. Either way, you’ll come away with a great appreciation for what these institutions mean for our state and its people.”

The Martins, like so many other parents, know first-hand how important it is for their children to receive care at a place where care is dedicated to children, where the staff and physicians are confident about what children and their families need as well as how to treat his or her illness.

Children’s of Alabama is the foundation for growth and continued excellence in pediatrics. It is an outstanding, well-run children’s hospital with aspirations parallel to the School of Medicine’s. Mike Warren, Children’s CEO, and I agree that recruiting Mitch Cohen is the beginning of recruiting more outstanding faculty and staff.

Dr. Cohen has a relatively calm sense of understanding about the challenges but also embracing opportunities. He has a vision to look far enough down the road and see what Children’s can be to the state and the region, including the creation of programs that become a destination for complex children’s care, and he has the experience to deliver that vision.

In so many ways, the physician-in-chief of Children’s has to adapt to being the doctor for the children of the state of Alabama. He has to think about and plan with the leadership of Children’s about how to serve the mission of being the place for all the children of Alabama – those with and those without a choice – to receive medical care. Children’s is a place that offers the best care in the world for all citizens of the state, and Dr. Cohen very much owns that responsibility; it is part of who he is.

The faculty and staff in Pediatrics probably weren’t sure what candidates would be attracted to the chair’s position. The search, which resulted in many outstanding candidates from very prestigious institutions, brought a national level of credibility to the faculty and staff and to what UAB and Children’s have promised to deliver: a strong leader who would advocate and lead them to growing to the next level.

The Martins share a little history with UAB. Gordon’s grandfather, John Gallalee, was president of the University of Alabama from 1948 to 1953 and recruited Dr. Joseph Volker to be dean of the medical school. He later persuaded Tinsley Harrison to be acting dean of the School of Medicine.

I think Gordon’s grandfather would share my enthusiasm about Dr. Cohen’s arrival, and the Martins, and parents across Alabama and the region, will be excited about the future of children’s medicine happening right here in Birmingham.
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