Alumni Spotlight Health & Wellness Profiles

Andrew McKown: On the Front Lines

Portrait of Andrew McKown
Like so many health care professionals, pulmonologist Andrew McKown BS '07 has dedicated himself to treating COVID-19 patients. (Photo by John and Kate Weatherford)

Andrew McKown is face-to-face with COVID-19 every day, serving his community in a vital way few can. It’s like nothing he’s experienced before.

“Normally, when a patient comes in with respiratory failure, you know what to do,” says McKown, a physician at Athens Pulmonary and co-director of the Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center Intensive Care Unit. “When a patient comes in with COVID-19? How we managed it three weeks ago is different from how we managed it last week. It’s crazy.”

McKown BS ’07 grew up in East Cobb and chose UGA after being offered a Foundation Fellowship—a decision met with approval from his family, which includes more than a dozen alumni, including his parents and two sisters.

McKown’s Foundation Fellowship experience offered valuable opportunities such as travel-study work at clinics in Thailand and Uganda. After graduating in 2007, McKown went to Harvard Medical School, met his wife, Ellen House, and discovered a passion for pulmonology. A Massachusetts General Hospital residency followed, then a fellowship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

After completing his time at Vanderbilt, he reconnected with friends and mentors from UGA, setting wheels into motion for a move back to the Classic City. McKown and his family have been in Athens for two years.

But the past few months make the past two years seem quite distant. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Athens Pulmonary doubled its daily commitment of physicians to affiliated hospitals and overhauled their doctors’ call schedules. And while having an unpredictable daily schedule is stressful, it pales in comparison to the work of treating this disease.

“I’ve seen people across the age spectrum critically ill—close to death—here in Athens from COVID-19,” McKown says. “If we don’t continue taking the necessary steps to slow the spread of infection, there could be so many cases that we will be strained to take care of them all.”

But he takes heart in a few things, including strong leadership at Piedmont Athens Regional and the outpouring of community support.

“There are signs all over the hospital that are, essentially, a cheering section,” McKown says. “There have been a number of gifts like hand-sewn face masks. UGA’s creating face shields. All of these things are amazing, and they are impactful.”