MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 2005

Michael Cohen



Institute for Safe Medication Practices

Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania

Age: 61 at time of award

Published September 1, 2005
Image of Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen is a pharmacist with a passion for patient safety and a commitment to reducing preventable drug and drug delivery mistakes that kill thousands of people each year in the United States. An early pioneer in an international movement to address medication error, Cohen is founder and president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP), a nonprofit clearinghouse for the distribution of impartial medical safety information to the healthcare community. As the number of available drugs and prescriptions filled each year continues to soar, many with look-alike or sound-alike names, Cohen is a recognized leader in promoting increased consumer vigilance, drug industry accountability, and practitioner responsibility. Through ISMP, he has championed improvements in drug naming, labeling, packaging, delivery systems, and regulation. At the cornerstone of his efforts, Cohen co-founded the continuous, voluntary, and confidential Medication Error Reporting Program (now administered by U.S. Pharmacopoeia), for medical professionals to learn about and understand the causes of errors across the nation. Where once errors were undisclosed and viewed as embarrassing to the healthcare industry, the active collection of these reports has helped generate practical and early responses and to combat potentially widespread and dangerous outcomes. For more than three decades, Cohen has played key roles in bringing about numerous corrections in error-prone products and practices. Today, he continues to be a major force in giving national visibility to the ubiquitous and serious problem of medication errors.

Michael Cohen received a B.S. (1968) and an M.S. (1984) from Temple University. He also received honorary degrees in science from the University of the Sciences of Philadelphia (2001), in science from Long Island University (2005), and in public service from the University of Maryland (2005). Cohen has held pharmacy leadership positions at Temple University Hospital (1970-83) and Quakertown Community Hospital (1983-92). Since 1976, he has taught at the Temple University School of Pharmacy, where he is now an adjunct associate professor. He is the editor of the book, Medication Error (1999), and the co-editor of the newsletter, ISMP Medication Safety Alert!. Cohen currently serves as president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, which he founded in 1993.

Recent News

In 2014, Michael Cohen received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Thomas Jefferson University.

Updated August 2015


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Michael Cohen In the Media

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