This week on In Black America, producer and host John L. Hanson, Jr. presents an interview recorded in 2013 with the late Dr. Timothy M. George, who passed away in November 2019. Dr. George had been Medical Director of the Pediatric Neurosurgery Center of Central Texas at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas.
Intro Music [00:00:01] This is an archive edition of an interview with Dr. Timothy M. George. Dr. George died on November 10th, 2019. He was 59.
Announcer [00:00:15] From the University of Texas at Austin, KUT Radio, this is In Black America.
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:00:22] I don’t look at myself as being this big person. I don’t think I am. You know, one great thing about going to New York, you learn you’re never the dumbest, you never the smartest, you never the ugliest but you never the prettiest either. You never the shortest, but you never the tallest. So one thing I like to say, I look at myself as being a normal person. And also I knew growing up that normal people weren’t doing the things that I’m doing today, that wasn’t in the cards. So I really wanted to be able to show that, you know, a normal person like me and nothing different anybody else can do these things. So if I can do it, you and you can do these things also. So that was really my drive to be a part of it. I don’t look at myself as being this enigma or a superstar. I think too often in the media, you know, I think Blacks are often, you know, the ones who do so well are either they seem to be special, almost like super gods, something above and beyond normal people.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:01:20] Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D., medical director of the Pediatric Neurosurgery Center of Central Texas Dell Children’s Medical Center, located in Austin, Texas. In 2006, Dr. George moved to Austin from Durham, North Carolina, where he was the associate professor of neurosurgery, pediatric and neurobiology at Duke University. Joining Children’s Hospital of Austin as chief of surgery and pediatric neurosurgery center of central Texas. He brings his breadth of knowledge and expertise in pediatric neurosurgeon as he’s develop and oversee pediatric neurosurgeon programs at the hospital. Dr. George has always been fascinated with the human body and science, but he admits that it was a long time before he connected the fascination of becoming a physician with the help of his basketball coach. He was fortunate to be recruited by several universities to play basketball, but decided to attend Columbia University because others said he couldn’t get in. I’m John L. Hanson Jr. And welcome to another edition of In Black America. On this week’s program, Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D., chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Dell Children’s Medical Center, In Black America.
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:02:33] I grew up really in the sixties, so I have a sixties heart and mentality. So when I was applying for colleges, I always had interest in medicine. I did. I had pretty good scores on my SATs. But yeah, when I was in high school, my guidance counselor, I’m not going to mention her name, So my guidance counselor would encourage me. Well, I know you’re interested in either do one of two things, use the basketball connections to get recruited someplace, or maybe you may think about physical therapy or some allied health profession. I think I got sort of pissed off and said, No, I my goal, I think I could be a doctor. I think I can help people. I really didn’t know what it all meant to do that, but I felt I could do it. And I said, No, I’m going to go for it. So my basketball coach actually helped me out by doing two things. One, he only allowed colleges to recruit me that were really strong academically that could get me there. He you know, I would love to play for UCLA. I may not have been good enough. I don’t know, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t gonna get recruited by them anyway because he was going to block them. But if it was Johns Hopkins or if it was Holy Cross or if it was even Wake Forest, he would allow those schools to talk to me.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:03:44] Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D., has more than 22 years experience in neurological surgery. He completed his medical training at New York University. His residency in neurosurgery at Yale University School of Medicine and his pediatric fellowship at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, his childhood was no different from those in the neighborhood. He believes the difference between himself today and the guys you grew up with lies not in his talent, skill, intellectual ability or sense of community, but in a direction he embraced. That direction was derived from his father. Though his father, Plummer had only an eighth grade education, he took care of his neighbors needs. He looked after the well-being of the guys who worked for him. Many times his father would work until the evening or on weekends to help provide extra money for his workers so they could provide for their own children. Dr. George developed an interest in pediatrics while still in high school work with disabled children, made him realize that there were children that had problems worse than he is. Attending Columbia University was a rite of passage. His self-worth was challenged as he went to class with students from the upper crust of society. Through it all, he learned something about himself. He had the right stuff.
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:05:00] I have an old soul. I really even I was born in 1965 or a soul, probably a little older. So I was sort of really I grew up really in the sixties, so I have a sixties heart and mentality. So when I was applying for colleges, I always had interest in medicine. I did. I had pretty good scores on my PSATs and SATs and. But yeah, when I was in high school, my guidance counselor, I’m not going to mention her name, so my guidance counselor would encourage me. Well, I know you’re interested in either do one of two things, use the basketball connections, and give recruiting someplace. Or maybe you may think about physical therapy or some allied health profession. I think I got sort of pissed off and said, no, in my goal. I think I could be a doctor. I think I can help people. I really didn’t know what it all meant to do that, but I felt I could do it. And I said, no, I’m going to go for it. So my basketball coach actually helped me out by doing two things. One, he only allowed colleges to recruit me that were really strong academically that could get me there. He you know, I would love to play for UCLA. I may not have been good enough. I don’t know, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t gonna get recruited by them anyway because he was going to block them. But if it was Johns Hopkins or if it was Holy Cross or if it was even Wake Forest, he would allow those schools to talk to me. And then after that ended up, I end up going to Columbia University ultimately. And the reason was that my guidance counselor told me, You never get into Columbia. So I had try to I’m getting pissed off and I applied anyway. My coach actually signed my letter on my recommendation letter because she wouldn’t sign it. And somehow I got in and the rest is history.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:06:43] Your guidance counselor wouldn’t sign the…
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:06:45] She just thought I would be in for a big disappointment. In over my head I just didn’t feel that way. And neither did he. And he just said, well, look, if it doesn’t work, it’s not going to work. So my attitude was not going to work, I’m okay with that. Even when I went to school, I said, well, if it doesn’t work, I’m okay with that, but I’m just going to put my best foot forward and see what happens.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:07:07] As you say that, you know, one would want to become a physician, but once you get to school, tell us about that process. And was there any point that you said, well, maybe I’m maybe in over my head and maybe this was not really a good decision to make?
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:07:25] Yeah, but when I first went out there for the interview, my father took me up there and this was in New York City, and I grew up around the city my entire life, but it’s a totally different world. I never really experienced that world before. So as I walked on campus, I could feel it was palpable.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:07:40] Under the arch, That big arch?
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:07:42] Oh, yes. And then I walked out of college, walk between the big low library up the steps, I felt, and I was entering a whole new world. My interview was amazing. I remember my interview like it was yesterday because the building, the gist of the interview was our goals are to help you teach you how to think and be a leader. And I was saying everything like, Oh, I want to do is learn how to think and be a leader. That’s what our exchange was. And it clicked. When I got there, I came in and was introduced a whole new culture of people. I mean, I never really, on a daily basis, even knew people who went to some of these elite boarding schools in the Northeast and or or whose families were worth millions and billions. And so, again, sort of reflecting back to my early days and growing up, I wasn’t afraid of that because I always zero base. I decided, oh, we’re all here. I guess we all figure out how to work together. But there were times where I felt like I knew I had to learn a lot more about them than they had to learn about me. And I had to adapt and learn how to deal with them, but still maintain who I was as a person. So I adapted to that a bit and a couple of ways. I have to admit I ended up playing basketball there, but also I also no one knew I was pre-med. I sort of kept that behind because it was such a culture of aggressiveness for the pre-med at Columbia that I didn’t want to get caught up into that little bit of a rat race where 60% of the kids were pre-med at Columbia when I was there. That was very competitive, very smart kids, and I didn’t want to get caught into that. And so I guess I dealt with it by not being caught up into the rat race part of it. But I still was there. They still saw me in organic chemistry and and people really I think it really sunk in probably in my junior year when I finally took my MCATS. They were like, You’re really pre-med. Really I am. But I always did everything about staying. I just didn’t want to get caught up into that part. I guess that’s how I coped with my own internal potential, even fear of failure. I didn’t want to put myself out there too much and maintain elements of me because it was it was a cultural awakening for me to be there.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:10:00] How did your partners treat you? Were they encouraging towards you in completing his goal?
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:10:06] My friends, yeah. And oh, again, I’ve lived a blessed life. My friends have. They would not just encouraging, they would come up and hang out with me and I’d. Go out and see them sometime. And but people would really totally support me. I mean, to the point that we had a good time. I also found, you know, we did some partying at Columbia. It wasn’t just all stuff. We had a good time. I was I became a little bit of a deejay there, so I hooked up. I also was fortunate. I said, I think I’ve been looked after. So a friend of mine I used to play basketball against. We were in junior high. We competed again in the city championship in junior high, and I missed them for four years. And he shows up on Columbia’s campus, walk across college, walk. And I look at him. We nicknamed him JC because he could jump. He was five, nine could jump as we ever said, Jesus Christ. So. So we nicknamed him JC and I walked across and I look JC, what are you doing here? And I didn’t think I see anybody I ever knew. Right. And I think that was a big help for me because we just clicked and we were best you know, we were just best friends. Who’s going to Columbia undergrad? And I think that was another coping thing. So then we both clicked and the world of our friends, an extension into Brooklyn and more in the New York area just exploded. And I never felt isolated because of that, too. And we were we were just brothers ever since and this is amazing.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:11:35] Of all the specialties to select, why neurosurgery?
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:11:39] Well, I’ve always really you know, I guess probably initially it was picked on. I did say what I told you. My mother told me I didn’t think about brain transplants. I did see kids who had really more neurological problems. Most of the mental and physically handicapped kids were really cause some something affecting the nervous system. And then also I just had an interest about the brain. I always wanted to understand, I guess, what made people tick, the soul. I felt the soul had to be housed somewhere up there. And so I figured one day I’d have a chance to figure out how the soul was integrated into this physical thing called a brain, but then also realized I learned scientifically over the years, you know, a little bit in high school and definitely in college about the nervous system I just really just became enamored with is its its its potential as a as a as an organ, but also a relative lack of understanding of what it did. And I thought, well, hey, this is a great growth opportunity to learn more because we don’t know everything about the brain. It’s the most complicated organ. And I felt that there was so many things to learn and everything. When I was there, when I was initially a student, everything was so new about our understanding of the brain function that I felt I was just on the edge of something new. And and it was exciting. It wasn’t just old. Information was always new. Every year, every couple of years. It was always something new about it. My great professors that instilled that way of thinking about the brain and that that’s one thing that piqued my interest on the nervous system. And neurosurgery, I think, is another thought. I really always thought that neurosurgery, because again, I was having to do a brain transplant, surgeons to do that. So I had to do it. But also, I think that as I got exposed to it, the surgical part, it was so direct. You had a chance to really make a direct effect on how the nervous system function. And I had great mentors who, you know, when I got to know some neurosurgeons later on more, and that’s medical school. They really were. We had one great one when I was in New York University. He really has such a great personality. He loved the patients. He loved the kids. He was a pediatric neurosurgeon. That was when I was there, pediatric neurosurgeon. He was a new discipline, really been around really for him for a couple of years. And and he really loved kids. He embraced them, but he was a pioneer. And and he also embraced me as a person who really allowed me to get close to it. Not just your student corner. I know you’re here. You’re one of my partners now. He would introduce me like I was one of the doctors with, and I get a chance to be with the families and kids just like him. So he really showed me what it was like. And I think that had a large impact. Clearly, what drove me to neurosurgery.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:14:21] What intrigues you the most? The process of trying to figure out what’s wrong with children, because children at that age really can’t express what they’re feeling or what’s wrong with them.
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:14:34] What what intrigued me most about kids was that they just a lot of disease of nervous system are devastating to them in their lives and to their families. The thing that intrigued me most was how amazing they did in spite of the odds being against them. I felt like, wow, instead of adults who are just complaining and whining all the time, these kids embraced that. Their families rallied behind them, and I just could always rally behind that. So as far as really came down to taking care of those kids, they were amazing. Whether they had tumors of the brain, bad nerve injuries, strokes, whether they had some something congenital or something they were born with that affected them in their lives. Kids running around in wheelchairs. All their lives. Who would do a more amazing things? And I knew people who were totally, you know, totally fit physically. And yet they’ve been dealing with this their entire lives. I mean, and that gave me something to rally for and how to families embrace them and how, you know, if they saw me having a bad day today, why don’t you smile? I hear these kids devastated and then worry more about how I’m doing. Come on, I’ll hold your hand. You need to be cheered up. And later on in my life, as I became a champ, a little bit came more in practice, had kids show up. And I guess maybe they thought I was overburdened because this is a hard job and a hard life and maybe they would see me. I had kids come to my clinic or office visits with and in costumes because they wanted to cheer me up. They wanted to make sure I was having a good day. Just have fun. Never go off to see other kids. But they wanted to make sure they showed me so I would be a part of it. So when you have that spirit and that heart behind it, I rally behind it. I think I got I always say sometimes I think I get more out of it than I give to them.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:16:19] Were you practicing physician when you were at Duke University when you were associate professor?
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:16:23] Yes. Yes, I was. That was a job I took after all my training and after the many years of, you know, medical school of college, medical school, residencies and fellowship. So you get specific training in pediatric component of neurosurgery. And then I went on and joined the faculty at Duke, where I got a chance to explore some my research interest in neurobiology. And also I was part of the obviously, Department of Surgery and neurosurgery and also pediatrics.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:16:52] And you’ve been here in Austin since 2006, and you’re the chief of pediatric neurosurgery here at Dell Children’s Medical Center.
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:17:01] That’s why I got recruited here to do. And then I made the biggest mistake.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:17:05] You get a signing bonus?
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:17:06] No, I said yes. And then you say yes to stuff two much. Now I have four jobs, which really you know, I came here for two reasons. One, one was to to be a part of the new hospital’s opening up and develop this pediatric neurosciences, but also really be a part of the future for how health care was being changed here with the new potential medical school. The new medical school has been talked about for years. It’s not new in concept. And when I got recruited here, that was really the forefront of discussion. And at that point in time, my career in life, even at Duke, I thought being able to come in and be a part of something new in a city as dynamic as Austin at the ground floor is just an opportunity that doesn’t exist. It really only exist in two places in the country, which was probably Austin and Pheonix, and I thought also was a better place in Pheonix to try to build it. And not just because I have something against Pheonix, but of course also had the elements that were here, had the big university here. It already had a a burgeoning, you know, hospital and health systems. It had the community which rallied behind it. They put their money into it and seeing all that and people wanted it so bad to me, it was a no brainer to be a part of that.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:18:20] Give us an idea without being too technical. Okay, You chief of pediatric neuroscience here, but you’re also a practicing physician. So obviously there’s a management part component that you oversee, but also that you are a practicing physician along with other physicians in pediatric unit.
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:18:40] Yeah, but they go hand in hand. Okay. That’s a long story. So, yes, I want to be chief of something that means that your your your job is to help set policies and procedures. Okay. Okay. But I also am CEO of the Physician Corporation. So we have multiple disciplines. So not just neurosurgery, neurology, ophthalmology. I also run that, too. Okay. And I’m also one of the vice presidents in the in the health systems and also on faculty duty. So I have a lot of hands and but all they all fit together. How do you set. So the goal really is how do you set how do you set the vision and goals for really what you want to do is delivering health care. To do that, you need to develop excellence in clinical care. So I need to do that by being in on it. I need to be a part of it and take care of kids, be at the forefront at the front lines, but also be a part of saying. Then you can see, Hey, we need to change these ways. We’re doing it and make adjustments and adaptations and change the policies we need to also a component that we need to. We find those gaps and what we can do that requires, I think, more research to understand what those gaps are and investigate. Though she had to be investigative on top of that, you can’t be sustainable. Sustainability is twofold. Sustainability is partially making sure you’re financially whole. But the other part of sustainability and when it comes down to even just waste basically by not taking care of somebody, is training others to build a legacy, train them how to think, and they build a legacy that sustains itself also. So you want to educate. You want to care for kids and other patients and all patients and you need to be investigated and thought and never lose that. You need to do research across the whole dimension of what you call research. That’s what it really means.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:20:28] You mentioned research. So what research are you currently engaged in?
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:20:32] My my my…specific areas scientifically I’m what is called a developmental molecular cell biologist.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:20:43] Okay. Speak English.
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:20:44] Yes. So I want to know, like kids are developing, they’re growing. Things are being formed, put together, connected together and wired. I want to know how that happens, okay? I wanna know what causes that, Not just looking at it from at the level of a big brain, but I want to know how the cells work. I want to know what controls those cells. I need to know the molecules. The molecules thing that control those cells, whether it’s the genes or proteins or whatever it is. I want to know what controls those cells and what. And therefore, the big part of that clearly is when it goes wrong, what happens. And so that’s that’s my so I use that term of a developmental molecular cell biologist because that’s really how I think about the nervous system. I want to know how it develops. And particularly I always have a more bent toward kids. So this is wonder how it develops. I want to know what controls it and therefore when something impacts it, whether it’s a you know, something they’re born with, some thing that grows like a tumor or whether it’s where they’re injured, how that affects that, all those processes.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:21:49] If you’re just joining us, you’re listening to In Black America. I’m John L. Hanson Jr., and we’re speaking with Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. He’s the chief of pediatric neuroscience at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas. We mentioned earlier, when I mentioned earlier how I came in contact with you were in a book called Real Role Models by Louis Harrison, a professor over at the University of Texas. Why is it important for you to participate in that book of letting African-Americans know that there are Dr. Timothy M. George’s out there and what’s possible, what has been possible for you is also possible for them?
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:22:25] Well, first, I really appreciate it. I was honored again and appreciate being in that book. The main reason why I’ve even agreed to be in the book was that I don’t look at myself as being this big person. I don’t think I’m you know, one great thing about going to New York, you learn you you never the dumbest, you never the smartest, you never the ugliest, but you never the prettiest either. You never the shortest, but you never the tallest. So one thing I like to say, I look at myself as being a normal person. And also I knew growing up that normal people weren’t doing the things that I’m doing today that wasn’t in the in the cards. So I really wanted to be able to be able to show that, hey, you know, a normal person like me, I’m nothing different than anybody else can do these things. So if I can do it, you, you and you can do these things also. So that was really my drive to be a part of it. I don’t look at myself as being this enigma or a superstar. I think too often in the media, you know, I think Blacks are often, you know, the ones who do so well are either they seem to be special, almost like super gods, something above and beyond normal people. You know, they’re either they sing too well, they don’t too high, or they seem to do something so special that nobody else can do. And that’s why they recognize so people, they respect them, they revere them, but they don’t really feel that they can really follow those paths. And I think that for me, I want to show people they can do those things. They can be CEOs of corporations, they can be a neurosurgeon, they can be a scientist, I can be a rocket scientist. I can fly to the moon. And that’s all good. And they can be a neurosurgeon. And that’s there’s nothing that’s not possible about that.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:24:07] On your off days, I understand now that you’re professional racecar driver.
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:24:11] Yeah, I got my professional license. Well, I did say I played basketball, so I have a little competitive spark to me. But as you get older, you have starts hurting, your knees start hurting. You can’t play ball and it doesn’t work anymore. Even if your mind thinks you can do it, you just can’t do it. So I could find I did find I can fit in a race car.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:24:32] And to have that experience, it’s amazing is that you go up to 200 miles an hour. How fast have you driven.
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:24:39] Who knows? There’s no speedometers in there you go as, no, you go as fast as you need to go. I mean, I’ve gone probably got 170 and 180. I don’t know. But the the real thing. One reason why I also like, besides competitive nature of it, is that is the one thing I can do that I don’t think about anything else while I’m doing it. So there’s there’s a moment where it’s very peaceful for me. I don’t think maybe playing golf is okay, but I think I don’t even play golf because I think I think too much. I really think too much as it is on a daily basis. I need things that allow me to remove from thought so I can just focus on one thing. And and enjoy that. And it’s much more physical than anybody ever thought. Think I never thought it was as physical as it is. I mean, you really get a workout. I come out of a car even after 20 minutes, I’m drenched with sweat. And and so it’s really a blast. It’s really a blast.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:25:31] Any final comments, Dr. George?
Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D. [00:25:33] Well, this has been an amazing experience for me, so I appreciate you and all the work you’ve done. I’ve heard a lot of your interviews. So this is an extreme honor for me. I’m humbled and just sort of blown away. I think that again, I really say a person like myself, I am not special. I know tons of kids. When I was growing up, I felt were just as smart or smarter than me. I think the only thing I’ve had I’ve had a lot of blessings, but I think I also was courageous. I was where I was. I had I did have something unique and that I was courageous enough to do things to outside of my comfort zone. And and I wasn’t afraid to say if I didn’t if it didn’t work out and I failed at it, do something else. And I tried a lot of things. I wasn’t successful. And I never felt that. And I never felt at any time that my inner confidence was ever shaken from just because I wasn’t successful at something, who I failed at something. So I just encouraged people to, you know, not in a very sort of out of touch way, follow your dreams, but go after things and don’t be afraid to go after them and no matter what they are. And but it does take a special quality of confidence. It does also take a little introspection, know yourself, know your true skill sets. My skill set is not being a neurosurgeon. My skill set is loving people. My skill set is embracing kids. My skill set is being able to be lead, to lead people and to think bigger than than my little brain would want to think. Those are my skill sets. And with that, the platforms I use of neurosurgery or leading organizations or whatever that might be, or just trying to be a father and a husband, those platforms are just ways I can use those skills. So I just say, you know, I just always want to encourage people to use their inner talents and but you got to take time to find those in their talents. And they’re really to the characteristics of who you are.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:27:36] Dr. Timothy M. George, M.D., former chief of pediatric neuroscience at Dell Children’s Medical Center, located in Austin, Texas. Dr. George died on November 10th, 2019. He was 59. If you have questions, comments or suggestions, ask your future In Black America programs. Email us at In Black America at kut.org. Also, let us know what radio station you heard us over. Remember to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. The views and opinions expressed on this program are not necessarily those of this station or of the University of Texas at Austin. You can hear previous programs online at kut.org. Until we have the opportunity again for technical producer David Alvarez, I’m John L. Hanson, Jr. Thank you for joining us today. Please join us again next week.
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