Lifetime Achievement: D. Brent Mulgrew

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO
Lifetime Achievement: D. Brent Mulgrew

Executive Director & Co-CEO, Ohio State Medical Association

The path towards a lifelong profession often begins in the home. Brent Mulgrew's mother, a nurse and clinical instructor, wanted him to be a doctor when he grew up.

"I get sick at the sight of blood," says Mulgrew, who served at the Air Force hospital at Lockbourne AFB (now Rickenbacker). He joined the Air Force after earning a master's in history from Ohio University. He earned a JD from the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State while in the Air Force Reserves.

When he joined the Ohio State Medical Association, his mother said, "'That's almost as good,'" he recalls with a smile. Mulgrew began his career at OSMA in 1974, first as a government affairs lobbyist, then as chief counsel, director of government relations and managing director. He was named executive director in 1992.

As executive director and co-CEO, Mulgrew oversees the largest physician association in the state, with membership including 20,000 physicians, practice managers, medical students and residents. The American Medical Association recognizes the OSMA as one of the most impactful state organizations in the country.

"If I can reduce the hurdles, barriers or imposition of unnecessary restrictions on physicians and the entire healthcare system, then I will have made a difference," says Mulgrew.

During his career, Mulgrew and OSMA staff have successfully lobbied to reform Ohio's medical malpractice rules and statutes. When he was hired by OSMA, the state was in the beginning of a professional liability crisis.

"We actually had hospitals closing because physicians, primarily at that time anesthesiologists, couldn't get (malpractice insurance) coverage, not at any cost," says Mulgrew. After several attempts to pass bills that could withstand constitutional challenge, a 2002 OSMA-backed bill reduced malpractice-related claims significantly for Ohio providers, reducing rates.

He and his colleagues work to stay in front of physician-patient issues before they become professional crises. The OSMA's foresight and innovation in creating the SmartRX digital training portal helped physicians review their prescribing practices just as opioid over-prescription was mounting as a public-health threat in Ohio.

Other current OSMA priorities include maintaining physicians' place as the leads on healthcare teams, reforming prior-authorization requirements and improving physician-patient communication around difficult healthcare decisions.

"It is a continuously changing environment," says Mulgrew of healthcare and the surrounding politics. "There's no 'carved in stone' here, except fundamental principles about doing no harm and protecting patients."

His mission at OSMA has always been to provide pathways to information. That pathway's grown muddy in the era of WebMD, big-pharma TV ads and "death panel" politics.

Whenever the Steubenville native starts thinking his job is rough, he looks up at the steel mill door cutter that hangs next to his desk. During his college summers, he used the tool to pry open coke ovens at the steel mill that employed his father, father-in-law and grandfather before him.

"My dad once told me, 'If you're in a clean shirt, you're not having a bad day,'" says Mulgrew. He will retire from the OSMA in January 2017.

"If I can reduce the hurdles, barriers or ... restrictions on physicians and the entire healthcare system, then I will have made a difference."