Working in the food-processing industry, specifically during a worldwide pandemic, has its challenges. When Tyson Foods created the new position of chief medical officer to help address employee health and safety and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Claudia Coplein was the person for the job. Joining Tyson in January and based at the company headquarters in Springdale, Ark., Coplein is focused on expanding the culture of employee health, safety, and well-being, in addition to helping lead the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID pandemic has had a big impact on our company, in that our team members are frontline workers, and we’re part of the global food supply chain,” says Coplein. “In the early days of the pandemic, when nobody really knew a lot about the virus or how it spread, we had outbreaks at some of our plants causing many of our team members to get sick. And as we learned more, we quickly invested in consulting resources, increased medical staffing, developed testing protocols, and implemented significant mitigation efforts that continue to this day.”
New challenges continue to arise with COVID- 19 variants, and Coplein is working to educate team members on the benefits of vaccination. “We’ve held many mass vaccination events at our locations,” she says. “It’s been a very interesting learning experience for me because Tyson is a very diverse company. Our employees come from all over the world, and many of our locations are in very rural areas. Addressing vaccine hesitancy and issues of health equity has broadened my public health experience.”
Working in the corporate environment came naturally for Coplein, who also spent time in the military. Upon graduating from New York Tech, earning her medical degree from the College of Osteopathic Medicine, Coplein served as a flight surgeon for the U.S. Air Force. “I appreciated the diversity of the curriculum in the B.S./D.O. program,” says Coplein. “I ended up in a specialty that is relatively small, but there was one lecture that we had in our second year of medical school that got me very interested in occupational medicine. If I had not been exposed to that, I would not be where I am today, which is really spending my entire career focused on employee health and well-being.”
Prior to joining Tyson, Coplein says her career gave her experiences across the healthcare ecosystem, including leadership positions at a health plan, as well as at MassMutual, MetLife, United Technologies, and General Electric. “I was fortunate to have various opportunities presented to me,” she says. “I’m a lifelong learner, and I have several additional academic degrees that I’ve collected over the years, but each one of them has come with a career opportunity that gave me the chance to learn something new and to grow both as a leader and as a physician.”
This profile originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of New York Institute of Technology Magazine.