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A Chicago Physician’s Role in U.S. R&D

Neurosurgeon is a key figure at MITRE Corp.
By Howard Wolinsky

STEPHEN ONDRA, MD, 67, is one of the most well-rounded physicians to come out of Chicago’s medical hub. His long resume includes stints as neurosurgery professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and chief medical officer at Northwestern Memorial Hospital entrepreneur and venture capitalist advisor; chief medical officer for Health Care Services Corp., parent of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois and the nation’s fourth-largest health insurance company; senior health advisor to President Barack Obama and an implementation deputy for the Affordable Care Act; executive in the Department of Veterans Affairs during the Obama Administration; and CEO of Cygnus-AI Inc., a company specializing in artificial intelligence and clinical decision support tools for diagnostic radiology.

He cautiously left private practice in 2008. “I put a lot of thought into that,” Dr. Ondra said. “It was the chance to move from helping people one at a time or training surgeons, for a unique opportunity to help people across the nation.”

Chance to Work for Obama White House
“President Obama had a vision on how to improve access to healthcare, and also how to improve value through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation and other approaches, to make healthcare better and more sustainable,” Dr. Ondra said. “And I thought that was a mission and an effort worth leaving practice for at the height of my career, because I thought it was a chance to help people at scale—on a large scale, instead of the smaller scale that I could as a surgeon.”

Now Dr. Ondra plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of healthcare in the United States as the chief medical advisor for MITRE Corp.’s work as operator of the 900-employee CMS Alliance to Modernize Healthcare Federally Funded Research and Development Center.

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