Michael W. O’Dell

Chief of Clinical Services, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York-Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center; Professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College,
Franklin College (IN), Class of 1981
Michael W. O’Dell Headshot

​​It would be impossible to overestimate the impact of my liberal arts education on my life and on my career in academic medicine. How does one distinguish the thinker from the thought? A liberal arts philosophy—in my mind, that a breadth of knowledge must necessarily precede a depth of understanding—has become entwined in my very DNA. My faculty position mandates that I serve as a teacher and role model to my medical students, resident physicians, fellows, and junior faculty. I must interact with and elicit a history from my patients as their physician and engender their trust. I am expected to design, lead, and conduct ethical clinical research, research that wields no impact if left unwritten on my desk. My medical practice is highly subspecialized in neurological rehabilitation and, yet, I fancy myself as a decent general internal medicine doc. A wider consideration has always appealed to me at work and away from work. I live in New York City primarily for an unparalleled access to opera, art, and the theater. How I fulfill these roles as teacher, physician, and researcher—and as citizen out of work—is completely grounded in what began at the impossibly distant age of 18 as I started college.

The time I spent at Franklin College of Indiana in the chemistry laboratory and knee-deep in life science texts was wonderfully complemented with choir practice and blue book compositions waxing poetically of Plato and Proust, Poulenc and Pollack. Understanding the music I heard and art I saw was as important as molecules and anatomy. Each week, I began to learn the science of medicine in those 19 hours at Barnes Science Hall, but I began to learn the art of medicine in the remaining 149. Those aspirations of a liberal arts education for intellectual and emotional flexibility, team work, tolerance, communication, and leadership are honed in the laboratories of community service, the fraternity and sorority house, and the athletic field. A book-smart scientist without these personal attributes is of little use, in my mind. I try to emphasize the importance of this breath of knowledge and experience and understanding and humanity in every interaction I have with each student, colleague, and patient who touches my life. Not a day passes when I fail to reflect and celebrate those terrific four years as the foundation and compass of the subsequent 33…and counting. 

Michael (Mike) W. O’Dell serves as chief of clinical services in the department of rehabilitation medicine at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan. He also holds the academic appointments of professor of clinical rehabilitation medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College and adjunct professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. O’Dell is nationally recognized as a clinician and educator in neurological rehabilitation, especially traumatic brain injury and stroke. He lectures frequently, both nationally and internationally.