M.D. earns M.S. at 75 (an RIT record!)

A drawback of being a highly skilled vascular surgeon who just earned a master's degree in health systems administration is an endless stream of job offers, says Joseph Geary '02.

"I'm getting job offers all the time, but I don't want them to interfere with my play," Geary says with a smile. At age 75, he was the oldest person ever to graduate from RIT.

Why did an accomplished surgeon want to return to the classroom when favorite activities like boat building and dock construction beckoned?

After 40 years of patient care, he wanted to learn about the business of healthcare. "It was time for me to take a good look at the financial, administrative and management side of medicine and what makes the healthcare system tick," he says, likening RIT's health systems administration degree to an MBA for doctors.

Geary spent his final two quarters on co-op with ViaHealth, a Rochester-based health-care organization, where he was an assistant to president and chief executive officer Sam Huston. Degree in hand, he plans to be a healthcare activist, consultant and physicians advocate.

Advocacy is a role for which he seems ideally suited. A self-described "people person," his patients were always his foremost concern. "I loved taking care of them," he says.

The son of a ship builder from Gloucester, Mass., Geary earned a degree in chemical engineering from the University of New Hampshire before deciding on a career in medicine. After graduation from Georgetown University, an internship at St. Mary's Hospital brought him to Rochester in 1954. That was when he met his future wife, Catherine. Returning to New England a year later, he became surgical resident at Boston City Hospital and, four years later, a fellow in vascular surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital, associated with Harvard Medical School.

He returned to Rochester in 1960 and helped establish the first vascular surgery unit at Rochester General Hospital. "Vascular surgery was in its infancy in those days," he says. Since then he has been chief of vascular surgery at RGH, associate professor of surgery at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and associate professor of surgery with the Armed Forces Medical School in Bethesda, Md., during the Persian Gulf War. He was one of the oldest officers to serve during the conflict.

He and his wife also raised a family of six children including son Kevin, who joined and later assumed his father's practice. Geary retired from active surgery in 1992 but was lured back to Rochester General a few months later. He retired again in 2000 but continues to lecture and teach. "It's a lot of fun for me," he says. "I was a teacher by heart."

Of his RIT studies — completed almost entirely online — he says: "It was the perfect forum. The coursework is terrific. I learned a ton. I'm thrilled about it all." He adds that he's proud of his 4.0 average, maintained not only at RIT but also throughout his post-secondary education — something he uses as encouragement for his grandchildren — all 14 of them.

He also looks forward to having more "play" time to spend doing what he enjoys most, building boats. That may have been his vocation, he says, had he not chosen medicine. His many patients over the years no doubt are grateful he chose "doc" over dry dock.

The University Magazine, Winter 2002