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Put patients first, ex-Disney leader tells medical students

Business in Medicine student group hears lesson in customer service

Contact: CMU News


With humor and examples from his time at Walt Disney World and the Marriott Corp., Lee Cockerell challenged Central Michigan University College of Medicine students Monday to create a culture of respect and chase greatness throughout their careers.

Cockerell retired from Walt Disney World as executive vice president of operations and now serves as a consultant and author of books on leadership. He spoke to the students remotely from his home in Orlando, Florida, as they gathered in the College of Medicine auditorium.

“In your profession, knowledge is everything,” Cockerell said. “If we screw up at Disney, we don’t kill people. Attention to detail and perfection is the name of the game. From my point of view, the difference between a good doctor and a great doctor is really, really big. A good one will kill you, and a great one will save your life.”

Cockerell, 70, tied the values of customer service expected at Disney and Marriott to the responsibilities CMED students will face as physicians. He emphasized the importance of focusing on the patient while reviewing these four expectations for guests/patients:

  1. Make every guest/patient feel special;
  2. Treat people — patients, co-workers, everyone — as individuals;
  3. Show respect — “Check your bigotry at the door;” and
  4. Be knowledgeable.

Cockerell spoke for an hour, closing with the story of his wife’s complications with diverticulitis that resulted in multiple surgeries, her extended care at home and the confident physician who performed a final nine-hour surgery that worked.

“He walked in, and said, ‘Priscilla, you’re going to be just fine. You’re the kind of patient I love to fix,” Cockerell said. “This guy was incredible.”

The presentation was part of the Business in Medicine student special interest group founded by first-year medical students Nick Cozzi, Alex Ghannam and Christopher Khoury. Cozzi, a 24-year-old from Chicago with a Master of Business Administration degree, said Cockerell’s talk is one of many events the Business in Medicine group plans.

“We want a way for physicians to talk about how they form a practice and how they maintain them,” Cozzi said. “And we want people from the private sector, such as Lee Cockerell, to discuss how service and people matter.”

The Business in Medicine group is one of 18 student-formed organizations created since the CMU College of Medicine welcomed its first class in 2013.

The CMU College of Medicine is the nation’s 137th medical school, created to address an anticipated shortage of 4,000 to 6,000 physicians in Michigan by 2020.

Students spend their first two years of study on CMU’s main campus in a state-of-the-art 60,000-square-foot-facility. The third and fourth years will be spent in clinical training at a number of medical facilities across central and northern Michigan, including Covenant HealthCare and St. Mary’s of Michigan in Saginaw.


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