By Joel Hall
In 1992, Dr. Willie Cochran joined the staff of Southern Regional Medical Center (SRMC) as a general surgeon.
One of two black medical students in his graduating class at Indiana University, and the only black doctor in his residency at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Cochran found a home among the surgeons at SRMC.
Out of the 20 years Cochran has practiced surgery, 16 of them have been spent in Riverdale at the SRMC. For years, Cochran ran the Trauma Center of the hospital, working alongside other doctors to treat injuries ranging from gunshot wounds to those sustained in car accidents.
"I've forged some very strong relationships with the doctors," said Cochran. "Because I have that relationship, I can sit down one on one, and talk to a lot of people."
As a surgeon, Cochran held several leadership positions, including chief of staff, and chief of surgery. Recently, he served as a doctor in the hospital's Hyperbaric Medicine and Wound Care Center, helping heal patients with large, unmanageable wounds, using hyperbaric oxygen.
Recently, Cochran was given the chance to take on another challenge, this time in an administrative role. At the beginning of this month, Cochran became the hospital's first African-American vice president of medical affairs.
In his new position, Cochran will act as a sounding board between hospital administrators and the entire medical staff, manage staff issues, inform doctors of new regulations, keep track of hospital admissions, and control hospital spending.
The executive position had been vacant for quite some time, but Cochran felt he was ready to make the transition when it became available, he said.
"When I came in here the first day as an administrator, it was very different, because your focus is different," said Cochran. "I have an advantage because I have that background in medicine, so I can still see both sides very clearly."
Ed Bonn, SRMC president and CEO, said Cochran was the perfect person for the position, because he understands what doctors go through on a day-to-day basis.
"He has been a part of the Southern Regional family for 16 years, therefore, he is only new to the position and not to the staff or the health care issues of the community that we serve," Bonn said in a prepared statement.
"He offers established relationships with medical staff, a collaborative leadership style, and integrity," Bonn continued. "I am confident that Dr. Cochran will bring a well-rounded perspective into this most important role."
In an effort to sharpen his skills as an administrator, Cochran recently began pursuing a master's of business administration degree from Mercer University in Macon.
"I'm hoping to re-establish this office as a place where doctors can get useful information," said Cochran. "That in itself is a big challenge, but I like big challenges."