INTERVIEW WITH THOMAS J. MCDONAGH JR., MD
What guided your decision to go into medicine and specifically, your chosen field?
For some reason, still unclear to me, I knew I wanted to be a Pediatrician from the time I was in eighth grade, even though I did not have a specific role model. My decision to enter medicine was solidified through high school and college because it was the profession that best combined my intellectual interests in biology with the interest I had in providing service to others. I think my Catholic upbringing and the influence of Quaker principles I was exposed to in college instilled in me that passion for service. Practicing pediatrics gives me a tremendous opportunity to positively shape the lives of so many children, both by keeping their minds and bodies healthy but also by being a role model in the community in which I live and practice.
Have you ever been a patient, and if so, what did it teach you?
Fortunately I have been healthy throughout my life. The only serious medical problem I have faced was being diagnosed with malignant melanoma 5 years ago. When I heard the diagnosis, it was the first time I can recall thinking about my mortality. Although my skin cancer was able to be successfully treated, it took years for me to get over the emotional toll. My dermatologist exemplified the traits I think a good physician needs to possess – he was thorough in his explanations, guided by data and science in his recommendations, compassionate in his bedside manner, and always available to answer my concerns and questions.
“I always make a follow up call after a sick visit to be sure their recovery is progressing. My advice is rooted in scientifically validated data, but influenced by many personal years of parenting experience.”
What are the most important qualities for a doctor to have?
Being a good doctor is a balancing act of having knowledge, but being practical in its application and able to pass it on to patients in words they can understand. It takes being available to patients, unfortunately often at the cost of one’s personal time. It takes being able to try to put yourself in your patient’s shoes and understand their concerns so you can better address them with compassion and empathy.
What can a patient expect when they have you as a doctor?
As a general pediatrician I have the honor of caring for my patients from birth to their young adult years. My “patients” include not only the children but their parents. My patients know I am available for them. I always make a follow up call after a sick visit to be sure their recovery is progressing. My advice is rooted in scientifically validated data, but influenced by many personal years of parenting experience.
What is the most important factor in the doctor/patient relationship and why?
Without a doubt, trust is the most important element in this relationship. My young adult patients must trust our bond of confidentiality to share information I need to protect their health and parents need to trust that my medical knowledge will lead to the right treatment plan. Trust must be earned. I subconsciously work hard at every patient encounter to earn that trust.
What makes you different from other doctors in your field?
Ultimately, you would have to ask my patients and their families that question. I know the extra touches I apply to patient care – making follow up calls, having a compassionate bedside manner, working evenings and weekends, trying to communicate in plain language so patients understand their diagnosis and treatment plan, separating clearly fact based guidance from opinion, and continuing to keep my knowledge base updated so I can provide care consistent with current guidelines. Based on my honor of twice receiving the Patient Choice Award for Northwell Health, I am at least partially accomplishing my goal of providing exemplary patient care.
What is your favorite activity outside of work?
When not in the office I enjoy athletics. I play golf and tennis as much as I can and enjoy watching sports, especially baseball and football. Go Mets! I also find landscaping a very peaceful activity. I look forward to cutting my lawn every week and my yearly tradition of mulching planting beds and tending to our vegetable garden.
“The Doctorpedia platform will be a great asset in the health consumer arena, providing physician produced information in formats that meet consumer needs. As a Pediatrician, my job will be much easier if I can engage in conversations with patients who have accurate information as the basis of considering their options.”
What problem do patients and physicians face that Doctorpedia can help solve?
In order for consumers of health care to make truly informed decisions, they must have access to accurate information at their fingertips. On a daily basis, I engage in discussions re: vaccine hesitancy, use of alternative medicines, and the role of prescription medicines. I remember once having a patient’s parent try to convince me that vaccines (specifically the polio vaccine) “do not work”. The social media world we live in allows disinformation to spread rapidly. No doubt that with the same set of factually correct information on hand, patients may make different choices regarding their health. What is important is that health care consumers have access to information that is fact based.
The Doctorpedia platform will be a great asset in the health consumer arena, providing physician produced information in formats that meet consumer needs. As a Pediatrician, my job will be much easier if I can engage in conversations with patients who have accurate information as the basis of considering their options. The Doctorpedia mission to “engage, educate and empower” consumers of health and wellness information promises to enable physicians and patients to more effectively participate in collaborative care.
What motivates you outside of medicine?
Although my profession is important to me, my family is of even higher import. As much as I hope upon my retirement from pediatric practice that my patients feel I served their health needs well, I hope even more that my wife feels that I have provided her the love and support she deserves and that my children see me as a positive role model.
If you could spend a day with any person in the world (dead or alive) – who would you choose?
Pope Francis. Unlike many recent popes, Francis has emphasized the need for more inclusiveness within the church. The teachings of Christianity – service to others, compassion for those less fortunate, love of neighbor – have served as a moral compass for me in my personal and professional life. Pope Francis has a difficult task navigating the rigidity of Catholic tradition with role modeling the tenets that Christians claim to embody. I admire the courage of his convictions and would love to hear his thoughts about how to bring together a world seemingly divided along religious, ethnic, and class lines.
What would you do for a living if you weren’t a doctor?
Honestly, I cannot think of another job I would enjoy more than what I currently do. As I enter the twilight of my practicing career, I realize that both teaching and the business of medicine are attractive to me. I have had a taste of these roles in limited ways to date, but hope to expand my participation in the next few years. Unfortunately my athletic prowess and bad knees won’t allow me to join the senior PGA tour.
What were your previous roles in healthcare and what did you learn from them?
The majority of my career has been directed towards direct patient care. However, I have also been Chair of Pediatrics at my local community hospital, President of a 25 physician multi-specialty group, and launched a pediatric weight management program. From these administrative roles I learned the value of teamwork in order to provide quality health care and learned a tremendous amount about the business of medicine and what incentivizes physicians. Health care in the US is complicated (a clear understatement). Physicians need to feel respected and valued, but they also need to understand they are only one part of a complex team that needs to cooperate towards the goal of providing elite patient care. Aligning the incentives and needs of providers and consumers of health care will allow better health care outcomes.
Thomas J. McDonagh Jr. MD
Dr. McDonagh is board certified in Pediatrics and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In addition to being a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, Dr. McDonagh is a Doctorpedia Founding Medical Partner and CMO of Doctorpedia's Pediatrics Channel.