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A Change in Major Leads to a Fulfilling Career in Medicine

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

After spending her freshman year at St. John’s preparing to become a medical technologist, Marie M. Gleason, MD ’77P “switched gears” to pursue a career in pediatric medicine.

Like many of the University’s graduates, Gleason is a first-generation American whose parents and professors helped guide her toward a rewarding career. “My parents were immigrants from Ireland who came over in the 1950s,” she said. “They had very little education themselves, but they saw the value of a quality education and supported me.”

Gleason graduated from Brooklyn’s Bishop McDonnell Memorial High School at the top of her class. Receiving a Diocesan scholarship, she chose to attend St. John’s. “I really loved the campus,” she said, “and the University offered the medical technology courses I wanted.”

Determined to pursue a career in the field, Gleason enrolled in what is now the College of Pharmacy and Heath Sciences. “About halfway through the program,” she recalled, “I decided to switch gears and become pre-med.” Medical technology included many of the courses she needed for her new academic pursuit. “Medicine began to seem like a more rewarding field,” Gleason said. “Plus, I was getting the same grades as the pre-med student, or better.”

When Gleason graduated, she decided to stay local, enrolling in the New York University School of Medicine. “Part of the reason I got into NYU,” she observed, “was the quality of the education I received at St. John’s. I’ll always appreciate that.”  

Today, Gleason is Associate Chief of the Division of Cardiology and Director of Outpatient and Community Cardiology for the Division of Cardiology at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“When I was in medical school, I was exposed to both pediatric cardiology and adult cardiology,” she said. “I liked both, but I decided I could make more of a difference in the lives of children than in adults, who are set in their ways.  Pediatrics is very rewarding because you get to see your patients grow from babies to school age, from adolescents to young adults.”

Gleason is also a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “As a teacher, you hope you can spark a couple of people to listen to you and understand you,” she said.  For Gleason, an excellent example was Alfred V. Liberti, Ph.D. ’41G, ’07HON, a renowned biology professor at St. John’s.

“He was close to everybody's heart,” she said. “He really was a guiding light. That’s why I’m so happy to contribute to the endowed scholarship that St. John’s founded in his name. If you’ve had a good outcome, then it’s important to give back.”

In March, Gleason was inducted into the Academy of Master Clinicians at the University of Pennsylvania, the highest clinical honor for a Penn Medicine physician. “It just means you're a good doctor,” she said, pointing out that she could not have made it to where she is without the help of professors like Liberti.  “Anyone who feels that they got where they are by themselves is mistaken. You’re the product of your environment.”