Dr. Stephen H. Lockhart goes by another name to many of those within NatureBridge: The Steve Lockhart. Once you speak with Steve or read his curriculum vitae, you quickly understand he is worthy of that prefix. A Rhodes Scholar, he began college at the age of 15 and graduated at 18, going on to earn a master’s in economics from Oxford and a PhD and MD from Cornell. Steve is one of the most accomplished anesthesiologists in his field and his conservation efforts have earned him numerous distinctions, including being named a Champion of Change by the Obama Administration. He serves and has served on numerous boards, including REI and Molina Healthcare, and recently started Sutter Health Institute for Advancing Health Equity.
He has served NatureBridge in multiple capacities over the years: board member, Board Chair, Chief Medical Officer and more. In our conversation, Steve provides insight as a physician, as a former board chair and as an extraordinarily accomplished agent of change on why NatureBridge survived a global pandemic, the opportunity we have to help students heal post-pandemic and what he would change about the organization with the click of a button.
Bennett Rea: I remember the first time I was introduced to you, my wife was telling me about a Campfire Chat you were doing for NatureBridge. And she said, “Tonight’s speaker is incredible, you should listen — it’s Steve Lockhart. The Steve Lockhart.” You’ve since been described to me on multiple occasions as “The” Steve Lockhart, and I’m wondering how it feels to have legendary “The” status?
Steve Lockhart: [laughs] I don’t know, I mean, it’s pretty incredible. I was just “Steve” or maybe “a Steve” and now…it sounds like “The Golden State Warriors” or something. There’s a certain stature associated with it, and I’m not sure I’m quite worthy of that.
Steve is indeed worthy of that prefix. A Rhodes Scholar, he began college at the age of 15 and graduated at 18, going on to earn a master’s in economics from Oxford and a PhD and MD from Cornell. Steve is one of the most accomplished anesthesiologists in his field and his conservation efforts have earned him numerous distinctions, including being named a Champion of Change by the Obama Administration. He serves and has served on numerous boards, including REI and Molina Healthcare, and recently started Sutter Health Institute for Advancing Health Equity.
In short, Steve has earned the “the.”
He has served NatureBridge in multiple capacities over the years: board member, Board Chair, Chief Medical Officer and more. At a time when it appears the most treacherous portion of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, we wanted to hear Steve’s perspective as a physician, as a former board chair and as an extraordinarily accomplished agent of change on why NatureBridge survived a global catastrophe and where the organization should go from here.
Bennett: Rhodes Scholar, Oxford, Cornell…you didn’t take the easy road with your education. What was the most exciting part of your studies?
Steve: Oh, well, I'm going to sound like an incredible nerd, but my mother was a math professor and my undergraduate degree was in math. In fact, my master’s degree was in mathematical economics and my PhD was in biostatistics. So I've always really enjoyed mathematics and some of the most exciting stuff for me was doing math. I'm still doing it. A few years ago I started Sutter Health Institute to Advance Health Equity, and that required me to be involved in quantitative methods for evaluating equity and health care and how to improve it and that sort of thing. That's important in terms of social justice implementation, but also, behind the scenes, it’s a bunch of nerdy mathy stuff. I still get to do that. And I enjoy it.
Bennett: It feels like a really intersectional place that you’ve found yourself — when you were a student for all those years, did you ever imagine applying mathematical principles for the purposes of advancing equity and justice in medicine?
Steve: No. You know, I've never been a “straight line from A to B” person. I really enjoy integrating. I think if I have a strength, it's pulling together things that are unlikely partners or unlikely ideas. For example, my PhD thesis was taking some concepts from one area of mathematics and applying it in a totally different area. I studied mathematics, philosophy and economics and then became an anesthesiologist — people would look at all that and say, “Is there something wrong with you? There’s no coherence in your career path.” But I managed to translate that into several different careers, which, when you link them all together, created a path. It's different, but I just figured you pick your own path and make sure that the nodes of the path are linked by a common passion; a common theme. For me, that’s caring for creation, if you will. Care for the planet and the people on it. That’s how I feel about NatureBridge.
Bennett: You were introduced to NatureBridge a few times, the first being your son taking part in several programs over the course of his childhood. What eventually nudged you over the edge to join the Board of Directors?
Steve: I wound up having Ty Cobb come into my office, who was the CEO of YNI (Yosemite National Institutes, now NatureBridge), at the time. Ty is a talker [laughs]. I'm an anesthesiologist, so my job is to make Ty be quiet and go to sleep so he can have the surgery. And his job is to talk. So, in the pre-op area he was talking about YNI and I didn't recognize the name because I knew YNI better by one of its campuses, the Headlands. Once he explained it, I said, “Oh, yeah, my son went there,” and he just wouldn't stop talking about it. He fell asleep mid-sentence talking about YNI. Afterwards in the recovery room, Ty woke up from the anesthesia and he picked up mid-sentence exactly where he left off before the surgery! I still don't know how he just kept going. And then it turns out he had with him, in his belongings under the gurney, a folder about YNI. He gave me his business card and said I ought to consider being a board member. At first I sort of waved it off as a patient under the influence…but he was a very nice guy and I figured why not, so eventually [my wife] Karen and I went out and had lunch at the Headlands with Ty. A couple hours later, I'm on the Yosemite board. I went to my first board meeting when [my daughter] Anna was three weeks old 20+ years ago, and I remember clearly we hiked up to May Lake with her. I’ve been involved in some way or another ever since.