A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dr. Potchen received his bachelor's degree from Michigan State University in 1954, his medical degree from Wayne State University in 1958, his master's degree in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1973, and his law degree from the University of Michigan in 1984. He was Chief Resident of Radiology at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in 1964, following which he was awarded an advanced fellowship in academic radiology at the James Picker Foundation under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council. In 1965 he was appointed the first Director of the Division of Nuclear Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Department of Radiology. In 1966 he left Harvard to become the Director of Nuclear Medicine Division, and later Professor and Chief of Diagnostic Radiology, at Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.
In 1972 he was appointed to a Sloan Fellowship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he received a degree in management with emphasis on decision analysis. Upon completion of the Sloan Fellowship he was appointed to a position as Professor of Radiology and Dean of Management Resources at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. In 1975 he accepted the position as Professor and Chairman of the new Department of Radiology at Michigan State University. He is presently appointed in that role in addition to being Professor of Management in the College of Business , Professor of Lyman Briggs College, and Professor of Physiology at Michigan State University. In 1990 he was awarded the title of University Distinguished Professor, Michigan State University. In 1993 he was elected to serve as the Chair and CEO of the Michigan State University/Faculty Group Practice.
He has served as President of the Society of Nuclear Medicine; President of the Fleischner Society, and as Chairman of the Liaison Committee for Medical Education (the group responsible for the accreditation of the American and Canadian Medical Schools). In 1971 he was elected to membership in the American Society of Clinical Investigation. In November of 1996, he was recipient of the prestigious Gosta Forssell Medal, awarded by the Swedish Academy of Medicine. Other professional activities include: Regional Councillor Alpha Omega Alpha – region 9, Chapter Councillor Alpha Omega Alpha – Gamma Chapter; Committee on Radiology, Natl. Academy of Sciences, Natl. Research Council, Division of Med. Sciences; Advanced Fellow in Academic Radiology of the James Picker Foundation, National Academy of Sciences, Natl. Research Council; President, Fleischner Society; Chair, ERDA Task Force on Nuclear Medicine; Voting Member, FDA Advisory Bd. on Silicone Breast Implants; Brigham and Women's Hospital Distinguished Alumnus Award; Member, Phi Kappa Phi; Aubrey O Hampton Lecture, Mass. General Hospital; and Special Consultant, HE Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Education, United Arab Emirates.
He has served on seven scientific journal editorial boards. He authored or edited 31 books and has been the author and co-author of 42 chapters in medical texts, in addition to 167 publications in the refereed press in the fields of chest radiology, neuroradiology, neuroscience, magnetic resonance, social economic implications of medical care, and the role of the university in technology transfer. One of his books, Screening Mammography: Breast Cancer Diagnosis in Asymptomatic Women, was co-authored by Arlene Sierra and a group from the Karolinska including Gunilla Svane and Edward Azavedo.
His major emphasis over the past 20 years in studying the quality of human decision making in Medicine, Business and Law. His emphasis has been on assessing decisions humans make and seeking to improve on the applications of technology to healthcare through improving the quality of decisions in the selections of alternative technologies and in their implementation.