For Dr. Andrew McKown (BS ’07, genetics) of Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center's intensive care unit, 12-hour days include multiple sets of gowns, masks and gloves, phone calls providing updates to patients’ families who can no longer visit their loved ones, a hooded face shield blowing air in his face and the research required to keep up with a global pandemic:
“It’s … been interesting,” said McKown. “My work has changed dramatically.”
McKown is face-to-face with COVID-19, serving his community in a vital way few can, and his story began at the University of Georgia.
McKown grew up in East Cobb, near Marietta. He excelled at George Walton Comprehensive High School and applied to several colleges, but after being offered a Foundation Fellowship, he decided on UGA—a decision that was met with strong familial approval.
“I come from a huge UGA family: My parents, both of my sisters, two of my mom’s three siblings, my mom’s parents, my mom’s aunt—who studied and taught there—and five of my cousins attended UGA,” said McKown. “It’s kind of a family thing.”
The Foundation Fellowship that attracted him to UGA provided experiences that became the bedrock for the rest of his education and career. Foundation Fellowships are UGA’s foremost undergraduate scholarships, placing students in a community of similarly dedicated scholars and offering numerous grants for travel-study, which McKown used to study in Thailand and Uganda.
In Thailand, he aided and observed medical staff at a rural clinic, and the experience made an impression: When he returned to Athens, McKown directed his focus toward global health and began taking classes at the then-newly founded College of Public Health. His subsequent trip to work at a health center in Uganda built upon this, as did the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention internship that used data gathered in Uganda to study costs associated with medical sharps disposal.
A BULLDOG IN BOSTON
After graduating from UGA in 2007, McKown applied to and was accepted at Harvard Medical School. For the next four years, he studied at one of the world’s premier medical institutions, broadening his horizons in a big city and meeting people from around the world, including his wife, Ellen House.
The two native southerners—House is from North Carolina—grew their relationship while McKown completed medical school followed by a residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and while House completed a psychiatry residency and fellowship.
In his third year of med school, McKown took a critical care rotation, a choice that would prove pivotal in growing his interest in pulmonology.
“I’ve always been a math and science guy,” said McKown. “I liked the physics of how we could use a ventilator to breathe for people, how exactly it works and how we pick the right settings to use. It fascinated me, so I thought that’s where [my career] might be heading.”
Great story on a terrific UGA alumnus and his family on the front lines of battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing can prepare our medical professionals for the situation we face today, but the calm perseverance, reliance on colleagues and constant pursuit of expertise puts them and their patients in the best positions stay healthy. Thank you to Dr. McKown and all the physicians, nurses, and staff at PARMC.
Image: House and McKown at the white coat ceremony marking the beginning of his residency at Mass General.