Dr. Kavita Patel

Vice President, Johns Hopkins Health System

Fast Facts

Kavita Patel

Health-reform researcher

Industry: Academia
Key previous position: Director of Health Policy, New America Foundation
Education: U of Texas
Notable fact: Advised ACA implementation

NJ50 Profile

Dr. Kavita Patel has a simple piece of advice to navigate D.C.: “No. 1, don’t be an asshole.”

“You have to check your title, ego, and even in my case, my degrees, at the door, and think, this person got here, in this room, because they know something,” said the doctor and nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution. “What is it they know that I need to understand?”

Patel follows up those words of wisdom with the suggestion that policymakers should “try to go outside your comfort skill.”

“You know the phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none’?” she said. “I would always say, ‘I’m a jack of all trades, master of one. I’m a master of health care, but I want to learn more.’”

That’s a recurring theme in Patel’s career, which brought her from a research track in internal medicine in Los Angeles to Capitol Hill to serve on Sen. Ted Kennedy’s staff. She then moved to the Obama administration, working as a senior aide to Valerie Jarrett, tackling everything from financial-recovery issues to health reform.

“This is a very typical D.C. thing. You just have to work on what your boss needs you to work on,” she recalled. “I was a doctor. What the hell do I know about the auto bailout?”

After she left the White House, Patel spent five years at Brookings delving into the “nitty-gritty of how we pay doctors.” With Donald Trump’s win, she decided to return to clinical practice full-time. “I think the Trump administration helped me feel more conviction about the fact that what we needed in policy are people who actually have some experience in what they’re talking about,” she said.

These days, she’s again balancing patient care with policy. She helped draft Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris’s Medicare-for-all plan. She’s also working on a Brookings project to offer policy recommendations for the entire Democratic field.

“D.C. is a town of the familiar, and I try to break myself out of the familiar,” Patel said. “It’s certainly very humbling, and I hope one day it makes me a more effective policymaker.”
Mackenzie Weinger