Post Date: July 2, 2021
Elected to the National Academy of Medicine. Named Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Foundation and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Winner of the Drake Medal and William Cooper Procter Medallion. Great Living Cincinnatian.
The remarkable 46-year career of Uma Kotagal, MBBS, MSc, at Cincinnati Children’s grew from the seeds of a neonatology fellowship in 1975 to its full blossom as a global leader in the fields of population health and quality improvement.
Kotagal retired June 30, 2021, from her role as Executive Leader, Population and Community Health Senior Fellow at Cincinnati Children’s to become Professor Emeritus after inspiring a generation of clinicians and researchers to strive to improve outcomes for children.
Kotagal was born and initially trained in Bombay, India. She emigrated to the U.S. in 1971, began a neonatology fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s in 1975, and never left.
Kotagal rose within the ranks to become clinical director of Neonatology, where she published research on care approaches and worked on safer forms of transport for severely ill newborns. As her roles expanded, she shifted her thinking toward seeking system-wide impacts.
Across the decades, Kotagal authored or co-authored more than 130 papers on topics ranging from managing sore throats to battling antibiotic-resistant infections to changing pediatric academic medicine. Along the way, she worked from the inside to help build Cincinnati Children’s into one of the world’s leading pediatric academic medical centers while redefining what it means to be an “ivory tower.”
As she worked with former CEO James Anderson, Pediatrics chair Tom Boat, MD, Board Chairman Lee Carter and many others to drive the idea of being the “best at getting better,” Kotagal pushed the institution to push the learnings happening here far beyond the hospital.
“My philosophy has always been to say yes when I can, to put kids and families first, and to change the systems so they work better for the kids and families.”
The roots of this effort began with a “Pursuing Perfection” grant in 2002 from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, which focused largely on improving outcomes for children with cystic fibrosis. The success of that project led to the formation of the James M. Anderson Center for Health Systems Excellence in 2010, which not only studies breakthroughs in quality improvement but works to accelerate adoption of data-driven best practices once they emerge.
Kotagal was the center’s first director. Now the Anderson Center, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, is led by co-directors Steve Muething, MD, and Peter Margolis, MD, PhD,
The low-key, selfless approach exemplified by Kotagal proved crucial to enticing and inspiring other leaders and organizations to partner with Cincinnati Children’s to form “learning networks.” This approach to driving change brings families, doctors, scientists, advocacy groups and otherwise highly competitive health organizations together as co-creators to pursue a common cause.
It works. Since its formation, the Anderson Center has supported more than 558 learning network teams across 286 pediatric care organizations in 43 states and five countries (Belgium, Canada, Qatar and the United Kingdom.) Examples of this concept in action include the All Children Thrive Learning Network, ImproveCareNow, Children’s Hospitals’ Solutions for Patient Safety, the Ohio Perinatal Quality Collaborative and more.
“My philosophy has always been to say yes when I can, to put kids and families first, and to change the systems so they work better for the kids and families,” Kotagal said in a recent interview for a Cincinnati Children’s alumni profile.
While her intentionally low-key approach to influencing systems has kept her name largely out of the media spotlight, Kotagal’s many achievements have been widely recognized in the medical community and among civic leaders.
Looking forward, Kotagal says she plans to continue her work with the Cincinnati Public Schools, and to spend more time with her family. One of her children, Meera Kotagal, MD, is a pediatric surgeon at Cincinnati Children’s.
“I’m hoping to hang on for a little bit longer,” Kotagal told Spectrum News One in Ohio, “To continue to be a little bit of a pain in the neck. To keep pushing the boundaries.”
Applying the Chronic Care Model to Improve Care and Outcomes at a Pediatric Medical Center, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, 2017
A Comprehensive Model to Build Improvement Capability in a Pediatric Academic Medical Center, Academic Pediatrics, 2014
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center: Transforming Care for Children and Families, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, 20o6
Improvements in Healthcare: How can we Change the Outcome?, Journal of Pediatrics, 2005
Elected to the National Academy of Medicine (then the Institute of Medicine) in 2009
Became the first woman to receive the William Cooper Procter Medallion, the highest honor bestowed by Cincinnati Children’s, in 2018.
Awarded the Daniel Drake Medal, the highest honor awarded from the UC College of Medicine, in 2015
Named one of Ohio’s Most Powerful and Influential Women, in 2013
Senior Fellow, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
Senior fellow of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement
Named a YWCA Career Woman of Achievement in 2008.
The Research Horizons blog features news and insights about the latest discoveries and innovations developed by the scientists of Cincinnati Children's. This blog does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.