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Dr. Molly Joel Coye

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1947

Medical School

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine


New Jersey

Career Path

Public health: Government
Administration: Foundation directors
Dr. Molly Joel Coye


Dr. Coye founded the Health Technology Center, a non-profit group dedicated to advancing the use of beneficial technologies for healthier people and communities where she is currently CEO.


I was inspired to study medicine in order to improve community health.

I studied the social upheavals in China, and the public health campaigns to eradicate infectious diseases and provide clean water and basic health care.


Dr. Molly Joel Coye is the founder and was chief executive officer (CEO) of the Health Technology Center, a non-profit organization which promotes the use of new technologies to improve the health of individuals and communities. She has run health departments in two states, has served as director of a health care policy group, and has also directed product development for a consumer software company. Dr. Coye enjoys the challenge of taking on such different tasks and has built a very varied career.

Molly Coye was born in Bennington, Vermont, to Robert D. Coye, M.D., a doctor, and Janet Loper Nelson, a mental health planner. She was surrounded by aspects of the medical world growing up, and well remembers visiting her father's pathology laboratory and coming home to "intense discussions of politics and how to improve health care." Despite this family background, Molly Coye did not decide to go to medical school until she was 27 years old. First, she earned a B.A. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, and then spent the next two years studying history and Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan. While there, she became increasingly interested in the role of health care in society and cost-effective strategies for providing care for the poor and underserved. She returned to the United States and completed a master's degree in history at Stanford University and then enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She graduated with an M.D. degree and an M.P.H. from the School of Hygiene and Public Health at Hopkins in 1977.

Dr. Coye completed an internship in family practice at San Francisco General Hospital in 1978 and served as a fellow in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program from 1978 to 1980. She moved into public health policy at the government level in her first job as a medical investigative officer for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 1980 whilst simultaneously serving as chief of the occupational health clinic at San Francisco General Hospital.

In 1986 Dr. Coye was appointed commissioner of health for the state of New Jersey, the first of two posts leading state health departments. The second was the directorship of the department of health services for the state of California, from 1991 to 1993, where she managed a budget of more than $16 billion and 5,000 employees. In 1988, two years into her three-year tenure as commissioner in New Jersey, Dr. Coye had her son Langston. Apparently the nurses were so nervous about treating the commissioner of health that they struggled to insert her intravenous drip! Between 1979 and 1994 Dr. Coye has also held a series of academic appointments at the University of California and the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Since leaving the California state department in 1993, Dr. Coye has held leadership positions at a number of health care organizations and has served as a consultant to venture capital firms specializing in health technology and communications. In 2001, she founded the Health Technology Center, a non-profit group dedicated to advancing the use of beneficial technologies for healthier people and communities where she is currently CEO. Dr. Coye was also a founding member of the California Endowment, the largest philanthropy in health care in California.

Dr. Coye has chaired the executive board, the action board, and the occupational health and safety section of the American Public Health Association and has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, Environmental Health Perspectives and the California Health Law Monitor. In 1988 she received the Virginia Apgar Award, and in 1993 the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association awarded her the Woodrow Wilson Award for Distinguished Government Service. Amongst numerous other honors, she was also named "Woman of the New Year" by Jersey Woman in 1988 and "Woman of the Year" by Northern California Women Healthcare Executives in 2003.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

Because I had not concentrated on science as an undergraduate in college, I had to return to the university to take the pre-medical science courses, and I had to convince the medical schools that my application was sincere and well thought out.

How do I make a difference?

In every setting, I try to discover solutions that will build support for increased access to health care, and improve the quality of care that patients and families receive. I create new programs and legislation and ways of thinking about health care.

Who was your mentor?

Dr. Barbara Starfield, a professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins, helped me to understand that research and scholarship could contribute to social change and better healthcare. She also showed me that having a family would help me be a better leader and thinker—there is no reason to sacrifice family life.

My mother, Janet Loper Nelson, was a mental health planner. She was an advisor on health issues to Governor Pat Lucy of Wisconsin twenty years—almost exactly—before I joined the staff of Govenor Tom Kean in New Jersey as an advisor on health. She built a movement, got legislation passed in Michigan to create the first patient's rights advocacy program within mental health institutions, and then headed that new agency for eight years. Quite a role model! When I first began giving speeches on public health at the American Public Health Association, our names would be found in the programs listed alphabetically right after each other, because she would be presenting on mental health topics. My father, Robert D. Coye, M.D., is a pathologist and was dean of the Wayne State School of Medicine for ten years—he was the one who taught me to question authority, argue for what I wanted and keep a sense of humor.

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