Brian McGowan – Medical Educator, Mentor and Author

[quote style=”boxed”]Never work for a guy with a bow tie and remember that only real people can make real differences in the world.[/quote]

Brian S. McGowan, Ph.D. is a research scientist who has worked as a medical educator, mentor, accredited provider and commercial supporter. He taught medical physiology at Arcadia University, served as senior director IME at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, and director of the Oncology Medical Education Group at Pfizer. Brian is the author of the Social Media Connections Column for Medical Meetings magazine and is writing a book on the need to re-engineer the medical information stream.

What are you working on right now?

At the moment, I am committed to bringing together the most innovative physicians, nurses, scientists and empowered patients from around the country to try to fix our healthcare system. I hate to think of my friends, family and loved ones suffering because the system still cannot connect the right knowledge at the right time to provide the right care.  It is outrageous that your ZIP code may be more important than any other risk factor when it comes to your health. I think that there are some pretty simple solutions to flatten out the perverse variability that challenges our healthcare system.

Where did the idea for your upcoming book come from?

For nearly a decade, I’ve been studying how physicians learn and make decisions. You’d think that we would have a pretty good evidence base here, but we really don’t. For years, the idea has been to shove more information into the heads of physicians and then, voilà, they will be able to provide the safest and most effective care that we could ever hope for; but that is not the case. Even something as simple as being stumped in practice and finding the time to formulate, ask and answer a question is actually a very complex cognitive process and physicians need help. But it is not just physicians who struggle with this. The days when any one person could be expected to know everything he needs to know to solve the problems he faces have long passed. We are also just beginning to understand the limitations of relying on Google as a support system. We need better systems to ensure rapid learning and to support high-stakes decision-making, like those seen in healthcare. As I kept looking for the right approaches, I began to find important lessons lurking in some unexpected places. The book pulls together all of these lessons and proposes some simple solutions that will not only support physician in practice, but will also empower patients and accelerate innovation by bolstering biomedical research scientists. This is essentially kills three birds with one stone!

What does your typical day look like?

I am up at 5:00 AM. I dive into the TweetStream as a research conduit by 5:30 AM. I write and/or consult from 7:00 AM-4:00 PM. I spend a few hours with my lovely wife, Megan and then dive back into the TweetStream and/or write until it is time to go to bed. I try to be available to colleagues and clients from around the world, so my days are long but far from boring!

How do you bring ideas to life?

Passionately, if not patiently. I try to locate a person, group or client who are likely to find the greatest value in my ideas and then work with them to make the change. Change rarely happens without motivation, especially when it is hard, so I try to find the groups that have the greatest motivation to pilot my ideas.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Big data. Linear improvement is fine. It is how medicine and healthcare have evolved for the past millennium. However, the impact that big data, derived from sharing ideas and aggregating data, will have on the healthcare system is almost limitless. Because of big data, everything we know about healthcare is about to change.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Never work for a guy with a bow tie and remember that only real people can make real differences in the world.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have read voraciously in my teen years and throughout my training. There is no better skill than having perspective, but you don’t have to wait around for the school of hard knocks to start learning this skill. Just read.

As a leader in your industry, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Share! Not to sound too Chicken Soup for the Soul, but I have found that every time I share, I get back far more than I give. Sharing questions, experiences, struggles, data and best practices is the most effective way to build your professional network. We have moved from a currency of knowledge as capital to one of social capital. As a result, there is nothing as important in business, healthcare or philanthropy as your social network.

What is one idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Bad data is worse than no data and several anecdotes do not qualify as data.

Tell us a secret.

I get choked up when I watch the human interest pieces that Tom Rinaldi and Chris Connelly produce for ESPN.

What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?

I will adopt anything that helps me control the information flow. Three tools I use every day are Google Alerts, Google Reader and Google Chrome. Maybe they’re not the sexiest tools, but they make me infinitely more productive.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert teaches a great life lesson that, as humans, we are incredibly bad at predicting the future or knowing what will make us happy in the future. Once you learn this, it becomes pretty difficult to take yourself seriously.

What’s on your playlist?

NPR: Intelligence Squared Oxford-style debates and HBR IdeaCasts.

If you weren’t working on your book, what would you be doing?

Professionally, I’d spend more time drafting a research agenda for social learning in healthcare. Personally, I’d be taking golf lessons from my wife.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

  • @amcunningham: AnneMarie Cunningham is a general practitioner in the United Kingdom. She is a pioneer in building an effective learning network for herself and constantly engages in riveting conversation.
  • @gfry: Gilles Frydman is the founder of the Association of Cancer Online Resources. He has innovated healthcare and technology for 20 years and is as passionate about improving the patient experience as anyone in the world.
  • @susannahfox: Susannah Fox  is the Associate Director, Digital Strategy at Pew Internet and she drives Pew’s health research. Susannah strikes the perfect balance between data and storytelling; she informs and persuades.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I have a 12-year-old bulldog named John Kruk McGowan. It is hard to look at him and not laugh.

Who is your hero?

My wife is my hero. In the 37 years I have walked this planet, I have never met someone who is as widely loved and admired as she is. She has dedicated her life to helping others and she has taught me almost every lesson I have ever learned about patience.


Brian McGowan on Twitter: @BrianSMcGowan Brian McGowan on LinkedIn: