Dr. Gregory A. Poland had achieved what so many strive for, to reach the top of their chosen profession, in his case, as an M.D.
His area of concentration: vaccinology, the branch of medicine focus on vaccine development. Since becoming a doctor in 1980, Poland has worked as a physician-scientist, splitting time between critical (concerned with life-threatening injuries and illnesses) medicine and laboratory based medicine.
Today, almost 40 years down the line, Poland is an internationally recognized expert in vaccines and biodefense, with a resume lined with sterling accomplishments. Poland is the Mary Lowell Leary professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and director of the Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group. He was winning awards, enjoying generous grant funding, appearing on national TV shows and meeting with high-ranking governmental officials.
But in 2014, Poland found that despite those achievements, he could no longer ignore something that had long tugged at him. It was an unshakeable feeling that told him he needed to shift his professional focus from healing of bodies to the healing of souls. In an unusual move, Poland heeded that advice, deciding to make a radical life change and begin studying to become an ordained Presbyterian minister.
“I’ll say it in theological terms,” said Poland in explaining the reasoning behind the move. “I think it’s hard if one has not been through this to understand because it almost sounds a little odd, but I had been sensing a calling to ministry for about 10 years. I resisted it. It just didn’t make any sense to me. I mean, I was involved in the church, a Christian, a believer. But to leave medicine at the top of my career….”
He’ll be discussing his life’s journey, and the blending of ministering to body and spirit, as the guest speaker at the 36th annual Marco Island Prayer Breakfast. The event is set for Feb. 26 at the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort’s Palms Ballroom.
Since that fateful decision, Poland has been transitioning from a focus on medicine and science to being a seminarian and full-time ministry. He’s been doing it as a Marco Island resident, after moving to the island in January of 2015 with his wife, Jean.
At present, he’s a pastoral intern now at Marco Island Presbyterian Church, while taking online classes from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. After completing that coursework, Poland will enter a theological degree program at the Edinburgh Theological Seminary, in conjunction with the University of Glasgow, in Scotland.
Poland’s professional background is indeed extraordinary, with such highlights as:
- Developing the field of “Vaccinomics,” which he describes as “understanding how vaccines work, how they help us or harm us, and then leverage that information to develop new, better safer vaccines.”
- Being the first to propose the Federal Center for Disease Control recommend annual flu shots. He wrote that official recommendation, along with one advocating for healthcare providers to be immunized to protect patients.
- Serving as president of the former U.S. Armed Forces Epidemiological Board, now the Defense Health Board, where he rewrote the U.S. Department of Defense’s Biologic Warfare Countermeasures.
- Receiving the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service, the department’s highest award, from former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
- At White House request, briefed former President George W. Bush privately on an influenza vaccine, when Pres. Bush visited him while on a Minnesota campaign tour.
A physician since 1980, Poland said his interest in the link between the physical and the spiritual is, in part, rooted in a realization during his junior-high years that the world and mankind are not as they should be.
“God did not design our bodies or the world to be the way they are and that’s where healing comes in,” explained Poland. “It dawned on me, because I’d always brought religion or spirituality with me into my medical work, that at best, as a physician, the reality of it is I might have the opportunity to heal or to participate in the healing of that one person in front of me. It’s struck me many times that when I preach or when I teach, I have the opportunity to participate in the healing of hundreds or thousands and that’s a very compelling motivation for me.”
The 36th annual Marco Island Prayer Breakfast will be held on Feb. 26 from 7:30 to 9 AM at the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort’s Palms Ballroom. Tickets are $30 for the event, which includes a full breakfast and music by Jean Rowles. Tickets can be purchased at local churches, or by calling 615-584-7225 or 309-657-622, or by visiting MarcoIslandPrayerBreakfast.com.