Atlanta, GA,
09:14 AM

Chief Medical Officer Michael Yochelson, M.D., MBA, Discusses Leading During a Pandemic

Dr. Yochelson joined Shepherd Center in 2017.

Q: What does a chief medical officer (CMO) do?
I am responsible for the safety of our patients and the quality of the care we provide. I oversee all of the clinical programs from a medical standpoint, including the physician, psychology and neuropsychology practices.

Q: You’ve served as CMO at Shepherd Center for three years now. How would you describe Shepherd Center’s culture?
Shepherd’s culture is unique and special compared to any other rehab facility I’ve been in. There is a very clear mission. Our north star is our patient: Everything we do here revolves around what is in their best interest. Focusing on the patients’ goals and independence really allows everybody who works here to be on the same page and value their work. This kind of teamwork is critical in rehab in general, and even more so with the type of rehab we do -- taking care of patients with catastrophic injuries and illnesses.

Q: More recently, things have been anything but business-as-usual due to COVID-19. Can you describe what your role has been regarding COVID-19 at Shepherd during this unprecedented time?
I run a team huddle where I oversee the changes to policies, procedures and guidelines that are intended to keep our patients, families, staff and visitors safe. Every day, I send an update to all staff to make sure everybody is aware of any changes or developments.

Q: From your perspective, what has managing through this pandemic brought out in you and your colleagues?
Having been a leader through this experience, I’ve been impressed with how my colleagues managed to remain calm and very thoughtful about what we do. Our team’s excellent leadership and strong communication skills throughout this have been critical to our success. I could not have done this without them. People were not quick to react to things and make bad judgments. Everything we did was focused on how we could best keep all of our stakeholders safe. Overall, I’d say we have been managing to get through this successfully.

Q: Is there a stand-out moment that you’ve noticed at Shepherd during the pandemic?
I can’t say there’s just one stand-out moment, but what has stood out to me is the compassion everyone has shown. When we had to make the difficult decision to temporarily stop most patient visitation in April, staff really were so empathetic – taking into consideration the impact this would have on the families and patients. Everybody understood why we had to make the decision, and they really stepped up to the plate in terms of communicating to families and providing extra care to patients.

Q: If you could have Shepherd Center staff, patients and families take away one lesson from this challenging situation, what would it be?
Take care of yourself and take care of others. There’s a lot to that, but a big piece is adhering to the rules, as difficult as they may be. Wearing your mask when you’re supposed to and social distancing truly do help. I think this lesson of caring for yourself and others is important for any situation or crisis.


  • Duke University: Bachelor of Science
  • George Washington University: Medical Degree
  • University of Maryland: R.H. Smith School of Business, Master of Business Administration


  • Dr. Yochelson began his medical career in the United States Navy, where he served from 1995 to 2006.
  • His first assignment after residency was in Japan at the U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka.
  • Dr. Yochelson enjoys cooking, traveling and going to the theater.
  • Dr. Yochelson spent a summer during college studying abroad in Madagascar researching lemurs.
  • Having lived most of his life in large cities, from Washington, D.C., to Tokyo, Dr. Yochelson loves the cultural opportunities cities provide. He enjoys living in Atlanta with his partner and daughter.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.