Better training path led to top US post
Wild Geese:Dr Graham McMahon, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Better training lured Dr Graham McMahon to Boston, where he has become one of the youngest people to be named as an associate professor at Harvard University.
Having qualified from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, he worked for two years in Beaumont and Navan before moving to the US in 1999.
“My main reason for coming out here was that I saw a lot of career flexibility and opportunity in the US,” he said. “While medical school training in Ireland is terrific, postgraduate training was in a state of evolution. US postgraduate training had evolved at a faster clip.”
There was a further bonus. As a gay man, he found a more accepting culture in the US.
“At the time when I left Ireland, if you were a high-performing professional, there were few role models of gay people. You want to be in an environment that welcomes and accepts you.
“I found that to be more true in Boston than in Ireland. Harvard and my hospital are very gay-friendly. It’s not an issue.There is no question life is easier here as a gay person.”
He is married to Joseph and has an adopted three-year-old daughter, Emily. Besides the social benefit, the move to the US has pushed his career ahead.
Aged 39, he is an associate professor at Harvard, where he has completed a masters in clinical research. He has an MD in medical education from the National University of Ireland; works in the endocrinology department of Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital; is a member of the National Board of Medical Examiners; and an editor at the New England Journal of Medicine.
He is working with Harvard in developing new methods of keeping diabetes patients healthy, using technology and education to help sufferers look after themselves. He is also overseeing a new programme that will allow courses and curricula to be shared globally.
Courses he has developed are used by thousands of students around the world. He still works regularly with the Royal College of Surgeons, where he advises young doctors and students considering moving to America.
“Coming to the US as an Irish graduate is not that straightforward,” he said. “You have to pass examinations and get accepted to training programmes that are very competitive. It can be a tricky process and it has become even more difficult.”
McMahon suggests years of advance planning are required. American universities and hospitals want to see evidence of leadership skills and extracurricular work.
Those opportunities aren’t always there for Irish students, he says. “Getting involved in community health programmes, students’ union, research in laboratories or with patients, or even going abroad for a year or two and publishing papers or building research material to show interest in academia; all these things help.”
Part of his work at Harvard has been to find new ways to encourage learning and he believes huge advances have been made in the US in recent years. Hands-on training is now more common and more widely used than the traditional lecture.
He suggests Ireland could learn much from the education model being developed in US third-level institutions. He also spots a niche in an untapped clinical research resource. “I think Ireland would be a great place to do a lot more clinical research. Relatively few people there have participated in trials and people might be willing to do it . . . It’s a great opportunity to advance Irish medical science.”