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Michael Reilly, Dr.P.H. ’10, M.P.H., Closes in on Achieving Lifelong Goal of Becoming a Physician

NYMC alumnus Dr. Michael Reilly looks to build on his accomplishments in public health and begin a career in medicine.

August 05, 2021
Headshot of Michael Reilly, Dr.P.H. ’10, M.P.H.Headshot

It was at Northeastern University in Boston, where he became a paramedic and aspired to attend medical school until one of the nation’s darkest days. September 11, 2001, changed the course of his future, launching him into the public health field and eventually leading him to serve as assistant director of New York Medical College’s (NYMC) Center for Disaster Medicine (CDM), graduate from NYMC with a Doctor of Public Health (Dr.P.H.) and become a leading voice in disaster preparedness. 

Dr. Reilly always had a keen interest in disaster medicine and counter terrorism leading up to his graduation from Northeastern in 2002. Six months before the terrorist attacks of September 11, during his senior year of college, while teaching in the paramedic program at Northeastern, he was selected to attend a course held by the U.S. Department of Justice relating to the response to weapons of mass destruction and he became an instructor in the program. After the attacks, Dr. Reilly traveled throughout New England teaching the courses to first responders, state and local officials, even members of the CDC and the FBI.

He then came to a crossroads; would he continue his plan to go to medical school or get involved in public health. Dr. Reilly chose to put medical school on hold. “I felt like I was making a difference. There was a lack of emergency response personnel with expertise in the area of preparedness and I knew the work would impact the lives of people and public health in a meaningful way,” he said.

Dr. Reilly continued on to earn his Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) in 2004 from Yale University and used his public health education and experience in emergency response to become the director of training and education at Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness where he met David S. Markenson, M.D., M.B.A., who eventually became a co-founder of the CDM at NYMC in 2005. 

Dr. Markenson became a mentor to Dr. Reilly and eventually recruited him to become the assistant director of the CDM in 2006, a position he held until 2011—a tenure during which Dr. Reilly graduated with a Dr.P.H. in 2010, completing his classes in the evening after work. 

“Working in academia, I had a real-world way to apply the material we were learning,” Dr. Reilly said.

In 2011, Dr. Reilly took a faculty position at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health as director of planning and response at their disaster preparedness center and as an assistant professor of environmental health sciences. Dr. Reilly returned to NYMC to direct the CDM in 2013 and re-joined the faculty as an associate professor of environmental health science in the School of Health Sciences and Practice (SHSP). Dr. Reilly was eventually jointly appointed as an associate professor of clinical emergency medicine in the School of Medicine (SOM), where he developed a fourth-year elective in disaster medicine.  He was the director until 2018, when he decided to fulfill his lifelong dream to become a physician and matriculated into NYMC’s SOM. “Working with student clinicians so closely upon my return to NYMC reminded me why I wanted to go to medical school in the first place. There’s something pretty incredible about being able to provide help to others during some of the most desperate times in their lives,” Dr. Reilly said.

The change from director and professor to medical student was a unique experience for him. “I didn’t understand the demands of a full-time medical student. I thought I would be able to be more meaningfully involved in active scholarly work and various ongoing projects, but I quickly realized my focus needed to be on my medical training.”

Dr. Reilly began medical school at age 39 surrounded by students who are mostly in their twenties—which he admitted was unusual—but he used his prior experience to help the younger students with the patient-facing aspects of medical studies using his 20-plus-years of experience as a paramedic and educator. Despite the difficulties of medical school, he said that the familiar setting of NYMC’s campus helped provide a feeling of comfortability.

“Knowing the lay of the land and knowing the faces of the people on campus definitely helped my transition. NYMC has been a home for me, professionally and academically,” Dr. Reilly said.

Now in his final year of medical school, he has his sights sets on specializing in emergency medicine where he hopes to land a residency program which will allow him to continue to pursue his passion for disaster and prehospital medicine. Dr. Reilly acknowledges that it hasn’t been easy to balance his studies, continuing to be a paramedic in New Jersey while balancing family life, but he is fortunate to be in that position. “It hasn’t always been easy to balance being married and being in medical school, but my wife has been really supportive. I’ve been very lucky,” he said. 

Dr. Reilly’s plans to become a physician were sidetracked when he was an undergraduate student, but 20 years and two public health degrees later, he is well on track to complete his lifelong goal.