As a student in Texas A&M University’s College of Medicine in the mid-1990s, Dr. Amalia Cochran ’89 ’98 was instilled with the medical knowledge she would need to become a successful physician. More than two decades later, though, Cochran remembers another crucial skill set that she took away from her medical school experience: the skills needed to be a leader.
“They were not just training us to be physicians; they were training us to be leaders in whatever medical field we chose,” she said of her professors. “That kind of training is no less relevant today than it was when the medical school first opened.”
By the time she earned her medical degree, Cochran had not only garnered several academic awards, but also the James A. Knight Leadership in Medicine Award.
Today, as a prominent burn surgeon, medical school professor, researcher and speaker, the former student’s career attests to her leadership abilities. But leadership in medicine, she stressed, looks different for different people.
“As doctors, people have respect for what we do in our communities,” she said. “They want to look to us as leaders.” Cochran said that’s equally true whether an individual is a world-renowned physician or a respected family doctor in a small town.
To ensure that this crucial leadership training continues for generations to come, the physician has designated the Texas A&M Foundation as the beneficiary of her individual retirement account (IRA). After her lifetime, these IRA funds will promote leadership education in Texas A&M’s College of Medicine.
A Winding Path
Nothing about Cochran’s educational path was routine. Hailing from Dallas, the academically gifted high school student had “senioritis” long before her senior year. With some sleuthing, she found a little-known Texas A&M early admittance policy that allowed her to enroll after her junior year, even without a high school diploma. She jumped at the chance to do just that. Texas A&M, she surmised, would prepare her for her lifelong dream of becoming a physician.
The Aggie not only thrived in the academic environment of Texas A&M, but also in the social opportunities she found on campus. She was a member of MSC OPAS and of Alpha Delta Pi (ADPi), living in the sorority house and forging friendships that continue to this day.
While she thoroughly enjoyed her campus pursuits, her science classes were another matter; she began to question her decision to major in biochemistry and attend medical school. This particularly became the case when she worked on Republican Kent Hance’s Texas gubernatorial campaign in 1986. Although Hance lost the election, Cochran discovered that she loved politics. She changed her major to political science.
Still focused on a political career after graduating from Texas A&M, the young graduate headed to the University of Colorado Boulder, where she earned a master’s degree in political science with an emphasis on international relations. But doubts about her life path began to plague her once again. After visiting with a friend in medical school, Cochran did a 180 and determined that her initial plans had been right all along: She wanted to be a doctor.
At Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, Cochran picked up the science courses she needed to apply to medical school. She took the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), then waited to see what would happen.
The Texas A&M University College of Medicine contacted her for an interview. When they offered her a spot in their 1994 class, she immediately took it. As she recalls, “I didn’t look anywhere else because I didn’t want to go anywhere else.”
Once enrolled in medical school, Cochran originally saw herself working with children, but the variety of roles intrinsic to burn and critical care specialization eventually won out. “I saw that by being in burn surgery, I could care for kids and adults, participate in surgery and be an ICU doctor all at once,” she said.
Her academic medicine path has further augmented her professional tasks. Along with her clinical work, she teaches classes, mentors students, participates in research, and writes and edits journal articles. As her reputation has grown, so has her demand as a lecturer, conference moderator, journal article reviewer, and board member of countless professional, academic, community and charitable organizations.
The surgeon’s professional path has taken her from the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City to The Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus. At both universities, she concurrently served as a classroom faculty member and as a clinical burn surgeon and trauma physician. Through her academic medicine roles, she’s not only mentored, but also kept in touch with medical students who have gone on to forge their own careers, bettering the communities they serve in the process.
But the long-term relationships she’s developed haven’t been solely with her students. As a burn specialist, she often spends years treating her patients, forming strong bonds with them and their families. Along with medical questions, she frequently inquires about school grades and soccer games.
“A couple of kiddos in Utah don’t even remember their lives before I was a part of it,” she said.
Proof of Cochran’s career success can be found in the countless accolades she’s received. The teaching awards, she said, are especially meaningful to her—particularly a Distinguished Master Educator Award from the Association for Surgical Education. But of all her many honors, she said, the one that personally means the most is the Texas A&M University College of Medicine Outstanding Alumnus Award she received in 2016.
Taking a Break
Before COVID-19 paralyzed the nation, Cochran had been contemplating the idea of taking a sabbatical. The arrival of the pandemic seemed the perfect time to do so. Recalling the biking, running and skiing opportunities she enjoyed in Montana when she was a Utah resident, the outdoors enthusiast packed up her things and moved to Bozeman.
The great outdoors wasn’t the only thing luring Cochran to Montana. One of her academic focuses is equity in health care. Her studies on the topic apply primarily to gender equity. While in Utah, however, she observed how inequity in such areas as funding and policy uniquely impacted her Native American patients. She wanted to learn how she could better serve and be an advocate for them.
Montana State University is renowned for its Native American Studies program, so the lifelong learner decided to pursue a graduate certificate in this specialized area. Her coursework and research not only taught her more about Native American culture itself, but, more precisely, about Native American equity issues as they pertain to medicine and surgery.
It didn’t take long for Cochran to apply this newfound knowledge to real-life situations. With the COVID-19 pandemic in full force, she has used much of her “off” time serving as a critical care physician in a Billings, Montana, hospital.
“While working in the ICU in Billings, I have already used the information I learned at Montana State to relate to my Native American families differently than I had in the past,” she said.
After almost a year-long sabbatical, Cochran said she’s “rested and ready to go.” She plans to return to academic life this summer. “Having had the opportunity to engage in academic work completely outside of my norm has been reinvigorating,” she said.
The Power of Planned Giving
Beginning in her undergraduate days at Texas A&M, the Aggie’s involvement in ADPi has remained steadfast. Today, she serves as vice president of grants for the national Alpha Delta Pi Foundation, where she witnesses firsthand how the generosity of donors can change lives. She’s also well-acquainted with the many different ways to give. When she began considering a gift to the Texas A&M Foundation to support Texas A&M’s College of Medicine, she was already well-versed in the power of planned giving.
With this knowledge and her desire to instill the same leadership qualities she attributes much of her professional success to, Cochran partnered with the Texas A&M Foundation to plan a gift that will support a leadership series geared to facilitate an interactive learning experience with peers, physicians and faculty. She hopes this will give Aggie physicians-in-training the confidence they need to forge their own paths regardless of where their medical journeys take them.
“Texas A&M and ADPi are the two institutions that have influenced me the most in terms of who I am and where I am,” she said. “It’s an honor to be able to give back.”
Interested in supporting the next generation of Aggie physicians? Contact David Boggan ’79 by completing the form below. Want to learn more about planning a gift with your retirement assets? Email Angela Throne ’03 at email@example.com.
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