In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is the story of Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD.
This profile was published in the December, 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
"Not a day goes by that I don’t talk to someone or interact with someone who has been able to achieve something important for the country or community or people who need help."
Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, probably began her preparation to lead the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation when she was a child growing up in Seattle.
Her parents were both physicians—mom was a pediatrician and dad was a surgeon. The Harvard Medical School graduate says she grew up understanding "the incredible privilege and honor it is to be a physician and to have that intimate relationship with a patient."
At the same time conversations with her parents helped her understand the larger forces in society—such as poverty and policy—that can affect whether people have access to physicians and the healthcare they need.
When she began practicing medicine in Philadelphia, Lavizzo-Mourey gravitated toward geriatric patients with complex illnesses who had largely been ignored by the healthcare system. "I found that taking care of them was intellectually challenging. It allowed me to be the kind of doctor I wanted to be—involved with the patient and the family."
It also allowed her to take those first steps toward becoming recognized as a national healthcare policy leader. She looked at how decisions being made in the Medicare program affected her individual patients while studying the importance of those decisions in setting a national agenda for healthcare policy.