By Mr. Jeffrey M Soares (Army Medicine)October 2, 2018
At the end of September, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity honored Dr. William McCarthy, who retired after serving the organization as its Chief of Biostatistics for the past nine years. While McCarthy is certainly focused within his multiple areas of expertise -- science, mathematics and statistics -- a recent meeting with the soon-to-be retiree shed light on his personal side as well. Although his cool demeanor resembles that of the 1960s' NASA statisticians in Mission Control, it is McCarthy's sincere passion for his profession that has made him a valuable asset in many organizations for nearly four decades.
In his role as chief of the biostatistics branch, McCarthy has played a key role in a number of success stories for the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, USAMMDA's higher headquarters. Many of these have involved USAMMDA's work in the development of countermeasures to prevent and treat malaria and leishmaniasis, across both our military and civilian populations. From early in the science and technology phase through to U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulatory approval, McCarthy's expertise in statistical analysis has helped to move these critical medical products through the lifecycle pipeline.
"At USAMMDA, I've been involved in determining the types of study designs and analyses that are required at various stages of product development," McCarthy explained. "My job was to ensure that we had all of the studies in place for successful regulatory approval by the FDA.
"When I first came to the organization, I was the statistician for the tafenoquine program, and the three major products I've worked on are tafenoquine and intravenous artesunate to treat malaria, and a treatment for cutaneous leishmaniasis," he continued. "I was involved at both the non-clinical and clinical levels, all the way through to writing protocols and statistical analysis plans for submissions to the FDA."
At the end of October, the USAMRMC and USAMMDA will recognize the entire tafenoquine program team with a ceremony to acknowledge the recent FDA approval of the drug after more than 40 years of dedicated work. Tafenoquine will be used to protect both military and civilian populations worldwide, and McCarthy is counted among those who have helped to take the critical product over the finish line.
"Dr. McCarthy's commitment to USAMMDA and the regulatory mission has been phenomenal," said Col. Ryan Bailey, USAMMDA commander. "His support as a biostatistician has played a key role in the development of many of our medical products in support of the Warfighter. He will truly be missed, but we know he will continue his great work as a lecturer of graduate studies, helping to train the next generation of valuable statisticians."
Although he has been involved with military medicine since the First Gulf War in 1990, McCarthy began teaching at the college level a decade before and has been doing so ever since. He has instructed both undergraduate and graduate students in mathematics, research methods, and statistics for nearly four decades, and he says that teaching is his true passion.
Over the years, he has lent his expertise to institutions that include the University of Maine, Syracuse University, the University of Maryland, the George Washington University Medical Center, and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. McCarthy currently serves as a graduate-level lecturer of biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University, where he will continue to teach upon his retirement from civilian service.
"I get a great deal of satisfaction from teaching, and I really enjoy the students and their questions, which helps me to stay up-to-date in the field," he said. "I'm fortunate to have been involved with some really strong math departments that had a lot of great students."
McCarthy himself has been highly successful as a student as well, having earned a bachelor's degree in biology, a master's degree in secondary education, for his teaching certification in math and science, and a doctorate in math and statistics. He has completed post-graduate work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health, and has also served as a subject-matter expert on numerous panels and cohorts over the years. McCarthy has been involved in more than 60 clinical trials and is named on hundreds of publications, posters, technical reports and special projects.
In light of everything he has accomplished during his career, McCarthy admits that one assignment stands out among the rest. In the late 1980s, the mathematics expert was hired as a special assistant in the U.S. Bureau of the Census, where he helped to design a sampling tool that is still being used today.
"At the Census Bureau, I worked with two seasoned experts who were tasked with creating high-level designs of the sampling portion of the decennial census," he explained. "It was very interesting, and very educational for me. Our three-man team developed innovative survey methods that are still being utilized today, although in a slightly different form -- I'm very proud that I was a part of that, especially since it was early in my career."
As he puts it, his passion for mathematics was handed down from his father, who was a comptroller for the federal government. Apparently, the math gene was passed down to McCarthy's siblings as well, as both of his sisters are math teachers, and his brother is a civil engineer. One can only imagine how their mother managed in a house full of mathematicians!
And speaking of his mother, McCarthy remembers how the family would spend summers and holidays at his mother's family home in Hyannis, Massachusetts. He fondly recalls many hours sailing the waters along Cape Cod, to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. He talks of borrowing the boats of friends, the way one would borrow a bicycle. Sailing near Maine, up and down the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean -- certainly idyllic for those who love the water.
When asked if sailing is what he likely will do in retirement, McCarthy says he has no plans for anything at the moment, other than to continue teaching at JHU. The conversation keeps returning to his love of academia and the joy he receives from his students. Clearly, he truly respects the educational milieu; because of this, his students have benefitted from his wisdom.
Although McCarthy has spent nearly 13 years in civilian service, and perhaps just as many years working in the private sector, he has been involved with teaching throughout his entire professional career, either full- or part-time for nearly four decades. This fact helps to shed the brightest light on the man's character, because as they say, teaching is a very selfless vocation.
McCarthy is not as much concerned with his own future as he is with the future of his students. They can count on him to be there, at the front of the classroom, just as he always has been. So, perhaps this should be the focus of this particular story. If so, there's just one thing left to do.
"Dr. William McCarthy Continues His Career as a Devoted Teacher."
Yes, that's better now. No need to say goodbye, sir. We know where you'll be.