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

Nakela L. Cook, M.D., MPH, is the executive director at 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.

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.

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.

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.

June 2023: Doing Research Differently: The Unique Value of Engagement in PCORI-Funded Research
Discussing the growing body of evidence around the effectiveness of engagement in health and healthcare research, Dr. Cook reflects on PCORI’s systematic approach to engaging patients, caregivers and other health care community members throughout the comparative clinical effectiveness research process to generate relevant, patient-centered evidence.

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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.

Wenger Award

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.

Conflicts of Interest

As of June 30, 2023

Financial or Business Associations:

  • None reported.

Personal Associations:

  • American College of Cardiology, Fellow, Self
  • Association of Black Cardiologists, Member, Self
  • American Medical Association, Member, Self
  • American Heart Association, Fellow, Self
  • National Clinical Scholars Program, Board Member, Self
  • National Clinical Scholars Program, Board Member, Self


Person Type