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Headshot of Nakela L. Cook, M.D., MPH, executive director at PCORI

Nakela L. Cook, M.D., MPH, is the executive director at the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). She is a cardiologist and health services researcher with a distinguished career leading key scientific initiatives engaging patients, clinicians and other health care stakeholders at some of the nation’s largest health research funders.

Cook leads PCORI’s research, engagement, dissemination and implementation, and research infrastructure development work. She also provides oversight to a growing number of programs and initiatives designed to create a more efficient, effective, equitable and patient-centered system of health. Under her leadership, and with extensive engagement of stakeholders, PCORI established a bold strategic vision to address the challenges, including social determinants of health, facing patients and communities in our nation’s complex, fast-changing health system.

Prior to her current role, Cook served as senior scientific officer and chief of staff at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the third largest institute of the National Institutes of Health. At NHLBI, she spearheaded the development and implementation of its strategic plan as well as initiatives in cardiovascular outcomes, precision medicine, data science, sickle cell disease and women’s health.

Throughout her career, Cook has worked to enhance diversity and equity in research and care delivery and has been a leader in efforts to reduce disparities in health access and outcomes. She has received numerous awards for her excellence in clinical teaching and mentorship as well as her leadership of complex scientific initiatives and programs.

Cook earned her medical degree from Harvard Medical School and a Master of Public Health in health care policy and management from Harvard School of Public Health. She completed her clinical training at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and is an alumna of the Commonwealth Fund/Harvard University Fellowship in Minority Health Policy.

Leadership Perspectives


February 2024: A New Year, New Opportunities: Looking Ahead to 2024 and Beyond
Dr. Cook looks ahead to exciting opportunities for the PCORI community this year and beyond. This includes progress on the National Priorities for Health, PCORI’s updated guidance on engagement in research, funding the first implementation awards in the Health Systems Implementation Initiative and more.

November 2023: Patient-Centered Research Is Critical to Enhancing Care Coordination
Dr. Cook discusses care coordination, a critical issue facing our country’s complex health and healthcare system that has long been on PCORI’s radar. This includes in the funding of comparative clinical effectiveness research studies on maternal care and cardiovascular disease, as well as sickle cell disease.

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Public Speaking & Presentations


Aspen Institute Event
Women’s Health Policy & Practice: Realizing the Promise (segment begins at 1:04)
Dr. Cook contributed expert insights in a discussion about women's health research at this unique half-day program.

Health Affairs Policy Spotlight
One-on-One with Nakela Cook
In an interview with Editor-in-Chief Dr. Alan Weil, Dr. Cook shared the vital contributions that evidence from patient-centered comparative clinical effectiveness research brings to improving health and health care decisions.

Axios Interview: Overcoming Healthcare Hurdles
A Conversation on Health Care Access in Underserved Areas
In a dialogue with Senior Editor Adriel Bettelheim on the challenges and solutions to expanding equitable access to health care, Dr. Cook explained how socioeconomic factors impact public health priorities and how the facets of patient-centered care work in practice.

AAAS Science Webinar Series
Doing Better Where It Counts: Bringing Rare Disease Care to Underserved Populations
Dr. Cook contributed key insights to a panels discussion on closing the chasm that prohibits those with rare diseases living in underserved countries and communities from getting critically needed care.

New England Journal of Medicine Perspective Roundtable
Diversity in Clinical Trials -- Next Steps
Dr. Cook shared perspectives and expertise on a panel exploring the need for community engagement and trust when designing trial strategies, the roles of journals and study sponsors, and other relevant issues.

PCORI Annual Meeting Keynote with Vivian Pinn
The New Horizon for Health Research Funding and the Clinical Research Workforce
Dr. Cook shared the stage with Vivian W. Pinn, M.D., Founding Director (Retired) of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health for a one-on-one discussion about the history of publicly funded healthcare research, and their shared experiences as physicians and research leaders.

Select Publications


Cook N. Pursuing Health Care Value Post-COVID-19: Keep The Focus on Patients. Health Affairs Blog. November 18, 2021

Cook, NL, Lauer MS. Biomedical Research COVID-19 Impact Assessment: Lessons Learned and Compelling Needs. NAM Perspectives. Discussion Paper, National Academy of Medicine. 26 Jul. 2021.

Cook, NL, Clauser SB, Shifreen A, Parry C. Reconceptualizing Care Transitions Research From the Patient Perspective. Medical Care. 2021; 59:S398-S400.

Cook, NL. Embracing Differences to Advance a Contemporary Understanding of Symptom Phenotypes in Acute Myocardial Infarction. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2020;13(2):e006431.

Cook NL. Bridging the sex gap in early myocardial infarction mortality: Why it matters. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2017;10:e004334. 

Select Honors and Awards


Cook Named Among Most Influential People in Healthcare in 2023*
In December 2023, Modern Healthcare recognized Dr. Cook among the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare for 2023. The noted healthcare industry trade publication honors an annual list of figures in the industry for their leadership and impact.

Cook Named 2020 Wenger Award Honoree
In October 2020, Dr. Cook was recognized for her contributions to women's heart health with the 2020 Wenger Award for Excellence in Public Service. The annual Wenger Awards are presented by WomenHeart, a national patient-centered organization that focuses exclusively on heart disease and heart health in women.

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PCORI Videos


PCORI's Mission to Help People Make Informed Healthcare Decisions
Dr. Cook outlines PCORI’s creation and mission to fund research that helps people make better-informed healthcare decisions based on their needs and preferences.

PCORI's Commitment to Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Dr. Cook shares what excites her about PCORI’s commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Conflicts of Interest

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