Robin McFee (D.O. ’95) is using her NYIT degree as a preparedness professional to enhance domestic response, which could save millions of lives in the event of the unthinkable.
Since graduation, she has blended her knowledge of medical toxicology and her background in security threats to serve as one of the world’s foremost experts on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) preparedness, serving as a consultant to government agencies, global corporations, and U.S. and international media organizations.
“It’s a weighty responsibility,” says McFee, who co-founded the Center for Bioterrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction Preparedness in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and served as its director from 2002 to 2005. “The traditional role of most preparedness and law enforcement involved dealing with things they could see, like natural disasters and criminals. The things my team and I deal with are toxic and terrorist threats—mostly microbes, stealth, or other invisible agents. You can’t see them on hurricane radar, shoot them, handcuff them, or arrest them.”
Since 9/11, she has given hundreds of lectures to government agencies and U.S. corporations, sharing expertise on how to prepare for a biological weapons attack, toxic terrorism, or threats from emerging pathogens such as swine flu, SARS, or avian flu. In addition, McFee has authored more than 100 articles and two books on emergency preparedness, terrorism, and nuclear, chemical, and biological agents. She has also served as a bioweapons/WMD advisor to the Regional Domestic Security Task Force Region 7 and an advisor on avian and swine flu preparedness to numerous organizations. She is currently the medical director of Threat Science, which she co-founded in 2004 to provide consulting services on security issues.
The NYIT graduate is also a toxicologist and professional education coordinator at the Long Island Regional Poison Information Center at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., where a typical day might include teaching, treating toxic exposures, working with community members, and serving as resident expert in a variety of medical and research areas. She describes it as “the best job in medicine,” working alongside great colleagues and serving as “part teacher, part researcher, part physician, and part mentor.”
McFee says it was her education at NYIT’s College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYCOM) that supplied her with strong academics as well as opportunities to develop her career and create numerous personal and professional networks. NYIT/NYCOM “is blessed with good educators and people who are accessible,” she says. “When you wanted to learn more, they were always there for you.”
Not surprisingly, her career often keeps her working some 70 hours per week. In addition to WMD preparedness and security responsibilities, McFee chairs the health committee at her local church in Worcester, Mass., serves on various charity boards and other organizations, and runs free clinics and community outreach programs. “I do a lot of pro bono work, which is my way of giving back.”
In 2009, McFee was invited to write a chapter on radiation for John Wiley & Sons’ General and Applied Toxicology, 6 Volume Set, 3rd Edition, one of the leading texts for scientists, medical professionals, military and homeland security agencies, industries, and academia. She discusses the global threats, medical considerations, equipment, and other issues needed to enhance preparedness in the future.
With regards to emergency preparedness in 2010, McFee says it’s generally about doing more with less. Preparedness, she notes, is a thinking job that requires identifying vulnerabilities and addressing them quickly. The downturn in the economy over the past few years hasn’t helped state and federal agencies obtain better resources to counter a biological attack, though the public is constantly interested in knowing what can happen and wants to be prepared.
“The threat is real,” says McFee. “We’ve been lucky but we can’t count on that as part of our preparedness strategy.”