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Leadership Edge: "Take Risks"​ with former CMO of Cardinal Health Shaden Marzouk

Dr. Shaden Marzouk, MD MBA - Physician Executive and ex. Chief Medical Officer at Cardinal Health

Dr. Shaden Marzouk, MD MBA, initially joined Cardinal Health in 2012 and helped grow the Cardinal Health offering of products and services through new commercial launches and key acquisitions and partnerships. She played a critical role in strategy development and execution, including formulating and executing commercial strategy in China. In her most recent role as Chief Medical Officer, Shaden led a global team in clinical operations, medical affairs and clinical education.

Shaden has over two decades of experience in healthcare, with expertise in services, provider, device, pharmaceutical and technology spaces. Prior to Cardinal Health, Shaden was Chief of Neurosurgery and a Major in the US Army. Shaden transitioned out of surgical practice after receiving her MBA at The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, where she concentrated on finance and health sector management. After her MBA, she was an associate in the healthcare practice of Goldman Sachs in New York.


Tell your story. What were your pivotal moments?

I am a neurosurgeon and I spent a significant portion of my life doing neurosurgery, seeing patients in clinic, in operating rooms, in hospitals, as well as conducting clinical research. I did a career transition from the patient side of healthcare to the business side of healthcare and I did that by getting my MBA at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. That was a wonderful wonderful decision. The MBA really enabled the career transition.

Post MBA, I worked at Goldman Sachs as an associate in the Investment Bank, then moved to one of my clients--Cardinal Health. I was at Cardinal for 6 and a half years in a series of successive roles.

I would say that the inflection points began when I was in medical school and I chose neurosurgery as my specialty. I did that because of the challenge that it provided and I often find myself attracted to challenges. That was also the reason that I picked my sub-specialty in spine surgery. I did a fellowship in adult deformity and was very interested in the biomechanics and in helping people with their spine problems as well as the challenges that spine problems pose.

Another inflection point was moving from the patient side of healthcare to the business side of healthcare, which I did by getting my MBA. The reason that I moved to the business side was because I was looking for a platform that was larger than one patient at a time to really address the issues that we see in our healthcare system today.

What principles or philosophies have guided your life?

I’ve taken risks in my life and with risks comes rewards. I took a risk going to neurosurgery; it was a very hard specialty to get into and I felt very rewarded by the profession of neurosurgery. I took another risk in changing my career a little later in life to the business side of healthcare. For me, that was the right decision and if I did things again, I would do them the same way.

I’m often asked to mentor people and I advise them to take risks. Risk-taking can end up in a negative scenario, but it can also end up in a positive scenario and you won’t know if you try…and you’ll learn from both.

Besides taking risks, are there other life mottos that have guided your decisions on a personal level or a professional setting?

I think it is very important to have global experiences in your career. Healthcare is something that is global in terms of the challenges that patients and providers face. We can learn a lot by expanding our horizons.

What do you stand for?

I stand for helping people. I like trying to utilize platforms that can help a larger number of people at a time and solving problems that seem difficult and sometimes cannot be solved or can be solved through a series of steps.

What steps did you take that you believe emerging leaders could emulate?

  1. Getting the right education: in my current role, it’s very helpful that I’m a doctor. It’s a commitment that you make, but it’s been quite a bit of useful knowledge and experience. Moving over to the business side of healthcare was enabled tremendously by my experience at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, particularly by the knowledge, the network and the mentoring that I gained at Fuqua.

  2. Taking risks: some of the more interesting things in life happen when you take a risk. There are a lot of great things in life when you try to do something where failure is a potential, but then you keep going and think about how to continue to solve the challenges in front of you.

  3. Communication and presentation: I really try to communicate things in a concise, confident and clear manner.

Outside of taking risks, what are the top 3-5 habits or mindsets that has helped you succeed?

  1. Responsiveness and clear communication: I am not someone that lets emails or texts or phone calls linger. I address everything within a 24-hour period. This level of responsiveness and communication has been very helpful in my career.

  2. The second mindset is to always think about the goals of your communication and actions. Are you communicating in a way that is concise and transparent, and helpful to the audience that you are communicating to? Are you focusing on execution or doing activities that won’t lead to your goals?

  3. The third habit is hard work. As a neurosurgeon, I learned how to work hard. Working hard is about not just having a 9-5 schedule but being able to put in the hours that it takes to get something done.

When did you take a risk in your professional or personal life? How did it turn out?

There were a lot of times where I’ve leapt fairly quickly and anticipated I would be able to resolve my landing. Changing from a career where I was seeing patients to a career on the business side was a time when I took a leap -- took a risk. I didn’t know enough to tell you what my business career was going to be like, but I wanted to give it a try.

Another time was when I raised my hand to live and work in China. It’s something I had wanted to do for some time, I had a lot of friends there from business school, and had some interesting business challenges to solve for the company I was with at the time. I can’t say that I knew exactly how it was going to end up, but it was an interesting and exciting opportunity, and I raised my hand to go for it.

A recurring theme is an enjoyment of challenge and adventure. Were there other factors that you’ve considered before taking the leap?

I like adventure, and I’ve done a lot of things in my life with not a lot of advance information, but just trusting the spirit of adventure -- and trusting that I would be able to resolve or at least ameliorate subsequent events that would ensue. A lot of times I am driven by a spirit of adventure and a spirit of optimism, in lieu of having a library of information to contemplate.

What are you most excited about in your industry?

I am very excited about the innovation that seems to be coming through on the technology side, and on the service side. There is a greater understanding that patients are consumers and healthcare can change. More and more, there are tools that we have to do that.

For example, I’ve been particularly interested in telemedicine and the delivery of virtual care. I’m also interested in remote monitoring and all that we can do with wearables and peripherals, as well as apps that drives patient adherence and engagement. Technology and tech-enabled solutions that help decrease cost, highlight quality, and increase access are exciting (and needed).


  • Takeaway #1: Take risks. Have a sense of adventure. Life becomes interesting when you do something that has the potential for failure, but where you continue to work hard and keep going.

  • Takeaway #2: Develop a clear and concise communication and a habit of responsiveness.

  • Takeaway #3: Get the right education and raise your hand for that global position.

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