Douglas McGee, DO, Chief Academic Officer, can’t recall a time when the sciences and math didn’t help determine the course of his life and career.
It started in Boy Scouts, with merit badges for first aid. It moved along to certification as an emergency medical technician (EMT) in high school and volunteer service with the local fire company. In junior high school and high school, he thrived on an academic diet of math, science, biology and physics. In college, he majored in chemistry, with a focus on organic chemistry.
The thread that ran through all of those intellectual and personal pursuits was an insatiable desire to analyze often stubborn problems and solve them.
Dr. McGee went on to the field of medicine, specializing in emergency medicine, where he is widely acknowledged for his expertise, leadership and scholarship. In his role as chief academic officer for Einstein Healthcare Network, he is principally responsible for all graduate, undergraduate and continuing medical education programs.
Of all the medical specialties, Dr. McGee found emergency medicine to be right up his problem-solving alley. “Emergency medicine is a specialty where, with really little information before you see the patient, you start with a history, and you try to solve that patient’s physical problem,” he says. “Every patient is a puzzle to be solved, and sometimes a difficult puzzle to be solved, and it requires a level of problem-solving skills to get to that diagnosis.”
Before he became a doctor—he finished residency in 1991—Dr. McGee’s study of chemistry had much in common with the practice of emergency medicine. “The field of chemistry,” he says, “is built around solving difficult problems with information that’s scattered in a lot of places. Now in clinical practice, that’s what I still enjoy—the problem solving.”
Dr. McGee’s role as chief academic officer also involves oversight of research—placing a resolute problem-solver in the position of problem-solving on a very high level. Dr. McGee is proud—justly so, he believes—of Einstein’s tradition of high-quality research.
“There are areas of research excellence that are present throughout our network,” he says. “We have had hundreds of peer-reviewed publications over a five-year period. Peer review, of course, is a measure of quality. There is a tremendous amount of research that comes out of Einstein.”
One factor that differentiates research at Einstein from that conducted at other research institutions, Dr. McGee says, is its emphasis on the practical relationship between research and patient care. Einstein research advances the field of science, he says, but it also helps patients.
Responsibility for such efforts, he says, is gratifying. Dr. McGee credits a solid background in math and the sciences—and in a larger sense, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)—for helping him get to this challenging and fulfilling point in his career.
Do you need that kind of deep background to become a doctor? Not necessarily, he says. Not everyone needs to have traveled the same path. Certainly, you need to have some grounding and record of achievement in math and the sciences, but a lot of people who ultimately enter medicine graduate college with degrees in the humanities.
Still, he says, he believes his solid focus on STEM-related subjects, right from the beginning, gave him a leg up. What’s more, studying the sciences, technology, engineering and math can offer long-term career advantages for everyone, even if medicine is not a young student’s ultimate ambition.
“What science and technology really do,” Dr. McGee says, “is give you a deeper understanding of the world we live in, along with problem-solving and thinking. Those are skills you can apply to almost any career you end up in.”