Meet the Dean December 10, 2018
Gregory McDonald, DO
Gregory McDonald, DO ’89, is well known around campus. He currently serves as the Dean of the School of Health Sciences and lectures extensively to doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO), physician assistant
(PA) and forensic medicine students and provides residents and attending physicians
with continuing education programs. In addition to his work at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), Dr. McDonald serves as the chief deputy coroner of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
We sat down with Dr. McDonald to learn more about his journey to becoming dean, as
well as his hobbies beyond the worlds of medicine and forensics.
What is your overall vision for the PCOM School of Health Sciences?
I think the School of Health Sciences will play a large role in the greater realm
of PCOM. It's going to contribute to, what I envision being, more of a university
model as opposed to the traditional medical school model. The osteopathic program is our flagship and that's never going to change; that's always going to be the major
focus of many of our endeavors. But we have to start thinking across different disciplines
and the School of Health Sciences is certainly going to allow that to happen.
The School of Health Sciences will contribute to other medically related fields—PA studies, physical therapy, forensic medicine and biomedical sciences—but I also see us diving into other potentially related fields, maybe doctors of
education or medical education degree tracks. We are already delving into non-medical
fields, but in an overall context of medicine and biology.
What initially drew you to medicine?
Ever since I was a little kid, I liked science and wanted to understand how biological
things worked. In fact, early on, I got a toy called the ”visible man” which was a
model of a see-through man with all the organs exposed. I remember that was one of
my favorite toys. I wanted to see what happens in the human body and what drives the
systems of the body.
Also, I was only 9 years old when my mom died of cancer. She was diagnosed in March
and passed away in October. So, in a very quick time period, I saw her waste away.
As a child I wondered, ”What is this thing called cancer?” My family is not a medical
family so no one could explain it to me. This also helped drive my curiosity about
why things go wrong. All these factors contributed greatly to me pursuing medicine.
What interests you in the field of forensics?
The forensic path is an interesting field, in that you're at the end of someone's
life and everything that could've gone wrong has gone wrong. Now you're working backwards
to find out what happened. I am not the kind of doctor that enjoyed looking at X-rays
or MRIs or CT scans. I’ve always wanted to see what went wrong for myself—whether
looking with my naked eye or through a microscope. Pathology allows you do that.
Additionally, forensics often deals with violent deaths and I was always interested
in law enforcement and detective work. I wanted to know, if you find someone who's
dead, how do you determine the cause of death? How do you know if they were strangled
or shot? How do you know which wound is the entrance wound and which wound is the
exit wound? How do you recreate what happened? For me, forensics marries my two interests
in medicine and law enforcement.
Please describe your leadership style.
I'm lucky in that, I have really great people working with me and I let them go through
their paces without micromanaging. I listen to learn what challenges they may be facing,
what institutional issues may arise, and what I can do to help them succeed in their
mission. I've been here a long time—I was a student here myself—so I think I can help
in that regard.
What book(s) are you currently reading/have you most recently read?
I am constantly reading medical books—pathology textbooks, forensic pathology textbooks
and articles—but aside from those, I just read a book called ”Pandemic 1918” by Catharine
Arnold. It is about the influenza pandemic of 1918 that took the lives of millions
of people (between 50-100 million) and had a severe impact here in Philadelphia. They
were piling bodies up on the street. They didn't even have enough wood for coffins.
So, even though I’ve lived in Philadelphia my entire life, I was never quite aware
Another book I read recently was ”The Butchering Art” by Lindsey Fitzharris, which
talked about the early days of anatomy, surgery and the challenges that arose pre-anesthesia.
It's funny—some of the names in the book are names that I often use in lectures; many
syndromes and triads were named after these physicians. A lot of these discoveries
also occurred in and around Philadelphia, specifically at Penn and Jefferson in the
What is the best advice you've ever received?
I've received a great deal of advice over the years, from various different people,
but my mom gave me the best piece of advice when I was young. She said, ”Greg, you're
going to do fine. You just have to believe in yourself and do what you think is right,
and everything will work out.” And though it's broad, it has stuck with me, lived
in my psyche and given me self-confidence. When I have come to a point in my life
where there's a question, I think back to that and it helps [with my decision].
What do you like to do in your spare time?
While I don't have much spare time these days, I do like to spend time with my son
and train in the martial arts. I started wrestling in high school, I did karate in
college, followed by judo, Brazilian ju-jitsu and now I'm currently training for my
black belt in an Israeli martial art called krav maga. I'm hoping to achieve that
in the next year.
What is one thing others at PCOM don't know about you?
I don't know if this is something I should share, but I will. Both of my grandfathers
were in Eastern State Penitentiary with Al Capone: one as a guard and one as a prisoner.
Tell us about one of your proudest moments.
Getting this dean position is my most recent proud moment, but one moment that really
changed my life and opened up a lot of doors for me, both academically and professionally,
was when I passed my boards. I spent years of my life studying for one exam, the most
challenging exam I've ever had. Luckily, I passed the first time. It was self-directed
study and it took a lot of sacrifice during a time when I also had a newborn child.
What is your favorite part of your position?
I think my favorite part is dealing with so many intelligent people. We are surrounded
by brilliant minds here on campus. From students, to faculty, to support staff, they
all come from different strengths and backgrounds. Some people on campus are more
research-oriented, some are more patient-oriented, and in addition to that, we have
such a diverse student background. Just being exposed to all these different people
in such a concentrated environment makes it so much fun to come to work.
You May Also Like:
About Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Founded in 1899, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) has trained thousands
of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists
who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms.
PCOM operates three campuses (PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia) and offers doctoral degrees in clinical psychology, educational psychology, osteopathic
medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy and school psychology, and graduate degrees in
applied behavior analysis, applied positive psychology, biomedical sciences, forensic
medicine, medical laboratory science, mental health counseling, non profit leadership
and population health management, organizational development and leadership, physician
assistant studies, school psychology, and public health management and administration.
PCOM students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service
to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care
to medically underserved populations. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 215-871-6100.
For more information, contact:
Associate Director, News and Media Relations
Office: 215-871-6304 | Cell:
Connect with PCOM