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Cooper Clinic's President and CEO on Taking Ownership of Your Health -- and Your Life Cooper Clinic's President and CEO on Taking Ownership of Your Health -- and Your Life
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September 29, 2020

Cooper Clinic's President and CEO on Taking Ownership of Your Health -- and Your Life

Q&A with Dr. Camron E. Nelson

For our latest brilliant person at work, one valuable piece of advice has culminated his life’s work: “Take ownership of your health.”

We are speaking of Dr. Camron E. Nelson, president and CEO of the world-renowned Cooper Clinic. The organization is known for its history of providing the finest personalized preventive medical services and igniting the aerobics fitness movement.

Dr. Nelson’s words echo in the age of the global coronavirus pandemic, with people on edge about how to stay healthy and safe while struggling to renew their focus on fueling productivity and happiness amid changes in their lives and to their livelihoods.

A seasoned preventive medicine physician, Dr. Nelson is devoted to helping patients — including business executives, athletes, and politicians — get an in-depth, individualized look at the state of their health and set them on the path to wellness, longevity, and optimal performance. He lives by the power of self-motivation in life and business, believing that the drive to achieve your goals comes from within.

To explore this theme — that we all have the power to unleash our potential during even the most uncertain times — Acertitude Managing Partner Kevin O’Neill spoke with his longtime physician and one of the brightest and most forward-thinking minds in preventive healthcare, Dr. Nelson.

Our hope is that you come away inspired and equipped with the tools to take your wellness and work to the next level.

Achieving mastery

O’Neill: You are lauded for your brilliant work in the medical field — and with healthy patients to show for it, including myself (I hope!). Help us understand what it took to reach and sustain such great success.

Dr. Nelson: More than anything, I think success comes when you focus on helping and bringing out the best in others. My biggest professional goal has always been to deliver the exceptional quality of care my patients deserve. So when I joined Cooper Aerobics in 2001, I knew I had found my home.

I work with the founder, Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, who is one of the greatest mentors I have known. He's taught me the importance of pioneering necessary changes in healthcare (Dr. Cooper coined the term “aerobics”), living to advance a purpose, staying mentally active, and thinking outside the box. From the start, he did things differently in the medical field — his aim is to advance medicine in a way that is productive for everyone and, ultimately, to change mankind.

At Cooper Clinic, we subsequently spend more concentrated time with our patients. On average, each physician may see three patients a day and spend several hours with each one of them. Personal attention is critical to discerning early illness, developing stronger relationships, and motivating patients to embrace and sustain good health behaviors. This is true for all businesses; attention matters with patients, with customers, and with colleagues. Even though I’m now the president and CEO, I still see patients daily and encourage them to stay motivated to live their best lives. I think staying close to your passion keeps you going.

As the CEO, I quickly learned the importance — and the greatest gift — of leading and motivating others. If I had to point to what has helped me motivate my team, it would be my desire to help them thrive in any environment and lead their teams. Not to mention, keeping purpose front and center — which for us is improving the quality and quantity of people’s lives.

Persevering in the pandemic

O’Neill: The pandemic has caused heightened concern over physical and mental health. What advice do you give your executive patients so they can take control of their health to keep their businesses thriving?

Dr. Nelson: COVID-19 has presented unprecedented obstacles, not only from a public health standpoint but also for businesses. However, it has also shown how incredibly resilient and adaptable people and business leaders are.

We at Cooper Clinic saw both sides — the challenges and the bounce back. Early on, our volume dropped as we were only permitted to perform chronic disease management and acute care through our Platinum concierge medicine program. To provide quality preventive care for our patients again, we had to rethink how we went about our work and pivot to telehealth services. As the pandemic continues to test the adaptability of businesses over the coming months, there’s no perfect solution. What I do know is that the leaders who pivot quickly to meet changing markets and consumer needs are halfway there.

I think of the pandemic as a marathon. Leaders will benefit by operating their companies as though they will be immersed in volatility and uncertainty for at least the next year. Of course, the scientific world is working hard to develop a vaccine, using genomics and gene sequencing to help. As we wait for a vaccine, there are several things we can do to limit the spread of the virus and protect ourselves.

Lifestyle habits known to minimize the risk of exposure include:

  • Practicing social distancing.
  • Wearing a mask.
  • Washing your hands and sanitizing often.
  • Refraining from touching your face.

Tactics around diet, exercise, and sleep can also be implemented today for a better tomorrow. Namely, going back to the basics by exercising three to five times a week and getting 7-8 hours of sleep, if you can.

I know those suggestions can be hard for business leaders who are often burning the candle at both ends. The tyranny of the urgent would have you at the office 16 hours a day. But I’ve found that approach is counterproductive to leaders’ effectiveness at work — and their overall health. If you try to eat nutritious food, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep, the ROI is tremendous. In my experience, you’ll feel much sharper at work and in a better mindset to think through problems and challenges. That’s why taking ownership of your health is so important. Taking control and slowing down can keep your physical and mental health strong.

And if you’ve already embraced those three lifestyle practices, challenge yourself to remain consistent. Working with a friend or loved one can help you stay on track toward your goals.

Motivating yourself and your team

O’Neill: Beyond your teachings on personal transformation, walk us through the essential takeaways you have gained through your experience as CEO.

Dr. Nelson: If the company’s bottom line is your primary focus, it won’t be successful. Greatness comes when you place the bulk of your efforts toward building healthy teams and great products. For us at Cooper Clinic, that means hiring employees and offering services through the lens of improving our patients’ quality of life. Dr. Cooper set a high bar for me as a leader with his extremely altruistic nature, mindfulness of a greater purpose, and contagious passion. That’s something I think we all can emulate.

Organizations thrive when business leaders genuinely love what they do — when they are passionate about their daily work, communicate with care, and commit to bringing out the best in others. Mentorship, devoting yourself to improving someone else’s life, is another telltale sign of great leadership. I would encourage anyone to set out to find the top performers in your organization who are motivated to advance. These individuals are your company’s pearls, so it’s beneficial to go out of your way to mentor and promote them.

Leaders must also make an effort to be present because it’s impossible to be effective from a distance. If you’re not in the office, try to have regular video meetings; familiarize yourself with each person’s strengths, goals, and frustrations; affirm your workers when they do a great job; and approach struggling teams with compassion, patience, and an open mind. This keeps everyone motivated to reach the company’s mission.

During difficult times, it’s human nature to feel like things are happening to you. We are all prone to falling into this mentality. However, nothing good ever comes from self-pity, and it never gets us where we want to be. When facing adversity either personally or professionally, explore what it feels like to take ownership of the situation. You’ll soon discover that you have the power to reach your full potential.

Defining brilliance with Dr. Nelson
Purpose is… a focus on long-term goals and the desired outcomes through the lens of improving the lives of my patients.
Leadership is… bringing out the best in people with respect and care.
Brilliant leaders are… passionate about their work and must be present.
Success is… helping and bringing out the best in others.
I perform at my best when… I am rested and not focused on myself.