New Colors, Same Stripes: Dr. Jeffrey Kuo

April 05, 2021

From LSU purple and gold to Ochsner blue (and Saints black and gold).

Dr. Kuo on the field

Dr. Jeffrey Kuo on the field when LSU won the 2019 National Championship in the Superdome.

From when he received his Bachelor of Science degree in microbiology from LSU in 2000 and his MD from LSU Health Science Center New Orleans in 2004, Dr. Jeffrey Kuo has been busy. Though he still considers his primary gig being an emergency room physician at Ochsner, he admits it is hard for him to find the time for that job given his dozen-plus other jobs. When the Saints play in the Superdome, Dr. Kuo stands just off the field and ready to run if a player is seriously injured. He also stands ready at concerts (Beyoncé, Elton John, Rolling Stones) and large New Orleans festivals (Jazz Fest, Voodoo, Essence, BUKU). And when he’s not there, Dr. Kuo manages the Ochsner helicopter program and their system-wide patient flow and referral system, connecting dots and facilitating patient transfers across the Gulf South.

Dr. Kuo’s email signature is its own chapter. It lists five medical directorships and several other appointments (albeit a small selection of the 80+ professional appointments he’s held in the past 15 years). He maintains a dozen professional affiliations, including as a Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, as well as a partnership with the FBI Citizens Academy.

Always a student, Dr. Kuo is currently working toward a master’s degree in medical management at Tulane and has learned over the years, as a parent to his now 10-year-old son Skyler, that his most important and gratifying job is being a dad. He says there is no greater thrill or responsibility than guiding Skyler in becoming “a happy, healthy, wholesome, successful, and productive member of society—and hopefully, an LSU Tiger!”

Looking back at how you started your career, as a resident in the emergency room at (then LSU-run) Charity Hospital in New Orleans—including during Hurricane Katrina—how ready did you feel at the time to face what must have been pretty big challenges?
Hurricane Katrina was devastating to so many people in so many ways. On a personal level, I lost my home, car, “office” (Charity Hospital), and nearly lost my city. But I felt very fortunate to be alive and have the opportunity to help others in need. Although I was frightened and facing so much uncertainty, I had confidence in the emergency medicine training I had received up to that point. Ultimately, my experiences during Hurricane Katrina helped prepare me for the COVID-19 global pandemic, both medically and emotionally.

Dr. Jeffrey Kuo

Dr. Jeffrey Kuo is the medical director of five separate departments at Ochsner.

LSU alumni often talk about how they’ll wear many different hats throughout their careers, all different colors, but their tiger stripes are always there. Do you feel this is true for you?

This is so true! I had such a broad array of experiences in Baton Rouge that really molded me into who I am today. I began college as a chemical engineering major, thinking I was going to follow in my dad’s footsteps. But the courses I was taking really fostered a love of the basic sciences and my mindset began to evolve. The exposure to brilliant, altruistic educators guided me down the path to medicine. So, I changed my major to microbiology with a pre-med focus a couple of years in, and never looked back.

Beyond the academics, LSU afforded me so many other opportunities. Whether it was going to sporting events or playing intramural sports or being involved with student government or making lifelong friends, my experiences in Baton Rouge broadened my horizons and helped me grow as a person. LSU prepared me exceptionally well for medical school and for my career as a physician and leader. Although my life and career have evolved considerably since my days in Baton Rouge, the lessons I learned at LSU have had a profound and transcendent impact on me, and my tiger stripes are still very much present.

Let’s talk about the New Orleans Saints—how did you get that job? We see you on TV wearing the red hat.

I function in multiple roles for Ochsner and one of them is as the Airway Management Physician with the New Orleans Saints. I’ve held this NFL-mandated position now for over 10 seasons. My responsibility is to be on the field on game days and care for critically injured players who have the potential to stop breathing or go into cardiac arrest—which, knock on wood, has never actually occurred on the field in any NFL football game.

Many medical students, resident physicians, and colleagues have asked me how I got this job. My answer is always the same. You have to work hard, have the appropriate education, become a subject-matter expert in your field, and—be in the right place at the right time when opportunity knocks.

Dr. Jeffrey Kuo on the Saints field with his son Skyler

Dr. Jeffrey Kuo and his son, Skyler, on the field in Superdome after a Saints game; it’s easy to spot Dr. Kuo on game days, just off the field in a red cap.

So, what else do you do for the Saints?

I assist with updating and operationalizing the emergency action plan at the practice facility and on game days in the Superdome. This entails all of the logistics for what happens when a player has a critical injury or illness; who responds on the field the moment a player goes down, how communications occur to the personnel who are needed to provide support, whether we need a medical cart or other equipment or EMS for transport to the hospital, or if a player needs X-rays or other radiographic studies. It’s all of that.

And not only do we plan—we practice. The medical staff meets in person for our Emergency Action Plan In-Service on a yearly basis. Ultimately, we hope that it’s just practice, drilling it and drilling it, so we’re prepared if ever called into action.

Now, Ochsner—it sounds like a lot of the positions you hold at Ochsner involve logistics as well?

They do. I make time to work in the ER at least one day a week. Getting to be an ER doctor is super cool; it’s an honor to impact patients’ lives directly on a regular basis. I absolutely love being an ER doctor, but I feel privileged to have all of my other jobs as well.

I’m the medical director of multiple departments at Ochsner. Our Patient Flow Center controls all patient movement at our 12 Ochsner-owned and -operated facilities, and our Regional Referral Center helps with over 1,000 patient transfers a month. Anytime a physician has a patient with a critical illness or injury that requires a higher level of care than a particular facility is able to provide, they call my department to help move the patient from that facility to the most appropriate facility to best serve the patient. So, I do have operational-type jobs and logistics-type jobs, which are all really rewarding.

I also get to do a lot of other fun things. I’m the medical director of several big events in and around New Orleans; the major festivals, and I run medical operations for other sporting events, such as the Sugar Bowl, the New Orleans Bowl, and the Bayou Classic.

Dr. Jeffrey Kuo runs the Ochsner helicopter EMS program

Dr. Kuo directs the helicopter EMS/air medical transport service Ochsner Flight Care.

– Optional: A photo credit.

What challenges are at the forefront of your mind these days?

One of the most impactful positions I hold is a seat on the Ochsner Diversity & Inclusion Executive Council. Through this role, I was recently asked to contribute as a member of our new Ochsner Equitable Vaccine Workgroup. A primary focus for this group is addressing health equity and healthcare access disparities, and in particular COVID vaccine access. Our goal is to create solutions to best aid the many underserved communities across the state. Institutions like Ochsner and LSU, that truly care for the folks we serve, prioritize these initiatives. Having a clear understanding of the critical challenges people face is so important. One of the most amazing qualities of Louisianans is that we’re willing to have honest dialogue with one another. Mobilizing resources with boots on the ground, making a concerted effort to really listen to what people say, and then diving into the data is key. By working collaboratively and going out to these communities, exhibiting empathy, and trying to understand what the healthcare access barriers really are, I believe Ochsner and LSU can effect change and positively impact the overall health of the state.

Finally, why did you choose to study at LSU?

I’d moved to St. Charles Parish, Louisiana from West Virginia in 1994, the summer before my junior year in high school. Over the course of the next couple of years, I fell in love with the state and the folks here in Louisiana; I felt blessed. As a minority family, we’d had apprehensions about moving to an unfamiliar environment, and instead we found ourselves in an area where people exhibited true southern hospitality. That’s why it never crossed my mind to attend any school other than the flagship university of our great state; to become a part of the LSU family and bleed purple and gold. Forever LSU!

In fact, because of the values my parents instilled in me at a young age, the warm welcome that I received when I moved to the state, and the lessons I learned about public service while at LSU, I have always had the desire to give back to my community; so I pounced on the opportunity to work with St. Charles Parish EMS. I figured, there was no better way to give back to my community than trying to provide exceptional healthcare to the people where I grew up.