The diving doctor

September 2019

Dr. Norman McCulloch Jr. at his medical practice.

Every day, Dr. Norman McCulloch Jr. combines three key aspects of his background: medicine, management—and scuba diving.

McCulloch prepares to dive.

Based in Dalton, Ga., McCulloch is the first hyperbaric oxygen therapy specialist in the Hamilton Health Care System. With his clinical partner, he leads the Wound and Hyperbaric Services Department to treat 30-40 patients a day with chronic wounds caused by diabetes, infection, burns and other conditions. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy uses pressurized oxygen to promote healing, essentially simulating the physics of diving underwater.

“This really combines the best of all worlds for me,” says McCulloch, who also is certified as a Dive Medicine Physician by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “My aunt went through hyperbaric oxygen therapy while I was in residency, and around the same time, I started scuba diving. I learned about all of the extraordinary and dangerous things that can happen when you’re many feet underwater, and knew this was the specialty I wanted to pursue.”

In addition, as assistant medical director, McCulloch deploys the skills he gained in the UB School of Management to lead his staff, implement new strategies, reduce waste and improve efficiency.

“There’s a duality in health care, which I learned early in my career,” McCulloch says. “There’s the clinical side and the business side, and my journey has given me the insights to navigate both to improve measurable outcomes.”

After earning his MBA and medical degree from UB in 2007, McCulloch joined the Erie County Medical Center as special assistant to the CEO. His first task was implementing the Kronos system to improve time management throughout the organization.

“I immediately used the techniques and lessons from my MBA to develop focus groups, complete a SWOT analysis and understand why Kronos would be beneficial,” he says. “All of these concepts were foreign to me before the MBA program. I was thankful to have that background because I was able to use what I learned in project management, human resources and organizational structure to accomplish these projects.”

From there, McCulloch completed his residency at NYU Winthrop Hospital and later earned a highly competitive fellowship in undersea and hyperbaric medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

He joined Hamilton in 2017, and says the most rewarding aspect of his work is the moment when a patient successfully “graduates” from his clinic, when the entire staff lines the hall to clap and celebrate as the patient goes home.

“The old adage is you don’t treat the hole in the patient—you treat the whole patient,” McCulloch says. “And so, I educate my patients about why they’re not healing and what’s happening locally in the area and systemically throughout their body. It’s gratifying to see where they were weeks or months prior, and then see them walk down the hallway again toward that graduation round of applause.”

Beyond treating individual patients, McCulloch says his dual degrees in medicine and business allow him to improve the organization by questioning old processes, communicating his ideas and driving change.

“The MBA program went by in a flash, but the benefit it gave me was invaluable,” he says. “Earning my dual degrees really positioned me well for my career as a physician—and a physician leader in my field.”

Written by Matthew Biddle