"I always wanted to make an impact on more than one person, on populations. With public health, that's what you do," says John McGowan Jr., M.D., professor of epidemiology. As he heads into retirement October 31 after 40-plus years dedicated to public health and medicine, it's safe to say he has done exactly that.
McGowan started his public health career as an Epidemiologic Intelligence Service (EIS) officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1969-1971 before moving on to work as a hospital epidemiologist at Boston City Hospital. He was recruited to work at Grady Memorial Hospital as an infectious diseases physician and hospital epidemiologist—where he worked for 25 years and also directed the clinical microbiology lab—and started teaching classes to Emory MPH students in the early '90s before being recruited to Rollins full time in 1998.
"Dr. John McGowan is the consummate physician, epidemiologist, and professor of public health and medicine," says James W. Curran, dean of the Rollins School of Public Health. "His long career at Emory demonstrated excellence in teaching, research, and service. His devotion to trainees has been recognized at all levels, most notably by many teaching awards from students."
While at Rollins, McGowan taught the Case Studies in Infectious Diseases course, which offered students realistic ways to utilize their epidemiology knowledge in various public health settings. "Because I come from a practical background at Grady, I liked the idea that the course focused on the applied use of epidemiological tools," he says.
When reflecting on the 19 years he has worked at Rollins, McGowan notes that the aspect of the job he'll miss the most is teaching. "Students are always bringing up interesting approaches to things, or interesting ways to rethink what I'm telling them. They teach me so much over the course of the year."
In addition to his work with MPH and MSPH students, McGowan has been instrumental in growing the MD/MPH dual degree program offered through the School of Medicine and Rollins. Prior to McGowan, the program received about one new student every two years. Now, the MD/MPH program receives between nine and 25 students a year.
"I think the MD/MPH is the glue that holds the two professions together," he says. "Jim Curran often speaks of the way the MD/MPH is able to see both personal health and population health and bring them together. I think our graduates, for the most part, do that."
McGowan also assisted in running the Master of Science in Clinical Research program, which he helped initiate in 1999. A joint effort between the School of Medicine, the Laney Graduate School, and Rollins, the program provides training to physicians, junior faculty, medical students, fellows, and residents to help them become successful clinical researchers.
"I guess if you ask me what I like the best; it's building bridges," says McGowan. "I like building bridges between the different schools, the students, the faculty, and the different areas of research and health."
A Family Calling
McGowan's passion for public health is a trait he shares with several members of his immediate family. His father was a child psychiatrist; his mother was a social worker; his wife, Linda Kay McGowan, worked at CDC for more than 20 years; and his daughter, Angie, is a public health lawyer (she also served as an EIS officer and is a Rollins alumna).
This shared commitment to public health sparked the McGowans' decision to establish the McGowan Family Scholarship Fund, which provides financial assistance for the Rollins costs associated with earning an MD/MPH or a JD/MPH at Emory.
A Winning Career
Over the years, McGowan has received numerous recognitions and awards for his contributions to public health. Among these are: the Thomas F. Sellers Jr. Award for Faculty Role Model and Mentor, the Emory Williams University Award for Distinguished Teaching, the Charles Hatcher Jr. Award for Career Contributions to Public Health, and his selection as the 2017 Commencement Address speaker.