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Ten Minutes with the DiGioias

An engineer and his engineer-turned-physician son share their thoughts on their family and their professions.

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Engineer Anthony M. DiGioia, Jr., 74, is co-founder and former owner of engineering firm GAI Consultants and co-owner of DiGioia Gray Associates, both based in Pittsburgh. DiGioia was at the forefront of the then-emerging area of geotechnical engineering in the 1960s and GAI was one of the founding practices of the Association of Soil and Foundation Engineers in 1969. He is also well known for his work on transmission line foundations, as well as the utilization of coal combustion waste products, such as fly ash.

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Anthony M. DiGioia Jr.

Three DiGioia sons followed their father into his profession: Matthew, a research engineer for Penn State Electro-Optics Center; David, a civil engineer at DiGioia Gray; and a third son, his eldest, 51-year-old Anthony M. DiGioia III. But this son, after practicing engineering briefly, turned to medical research and became a physician . He now has an orthopedic medical practice and is an expert in computer-assisted orthopedic surgery, a field that includes problems of replacing joints in peoples’ hips and knees. He also is clinical associate professor of orthopedic surgery with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

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Anthony M. DiGioia III.

What do you enjoy about engineering?

Anthony DiGioia Jr.: I’ve been fortunate to be associated with some really good people through my firm. I like the challenge of developing a cost-effective solution that is environmentally acceptable. That’s the fun of our profession.

In addition to mentoring young engineers throughout your career, you also taught at Carnegie Tech, and recently returned to teaching there as an adjunct professor. You also teach a continuing education course on foundation engineering. Why teach?

It’s an interesting opportunity, working with youngsters... You ask the general public, what do engineers do? That’s a very good question. We Engineering Society of Western Pennsylvania members are trying to spread the word about that.

How did Tony’s interest in medicine lead to engineering?

Tony’s thesis supervisor got him involved with robotics. That’s how Tony became interested in medicine. He studied whether he wanted to be a doctor.

Were you surprised when your son decided to go into medicine?

He was working on his master’s degree in civil engineering, so his mother and I were surprised. When he explained that he wanted to use his engineering in medicine, I understood. We felt very comfortable with his decision.

Were you pleased that your son was going to be a doctor?

Yes, very much so. I could see the value of his engineering training being applied in the medical field. We thought he’d be very successful, and he has been.

How does Tony’s education inform his work?

You can see the influence of Tony’s engineering background in his work. The way he approaches problems—I think Carnegie Mellon University teaches you to define and solve the problem. It’s a very good way of approaching things in general.

Why don’t we ask him. Did your father’s career influence you greatly?

Anthony DiGioia III: He kept very close ties to CMU. The early exposure of seeing what engineers really do was important... Through the whole process of building a large company, he never changed as a person. In some ways, he was the same way with his family as he was with his employees.

Your interest in medicine was first stirred due to accidents, when you broke your ankle in high school and when you broke your knee while playing football at Carnegie Mellon. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science and Master’s degree in civil and biomedical engineering from Carnegie Mellon, you worked for three years in the orthopedic biomechanics lab at University of Pittsburgh. Why did you attend medical school?

I went to medical school because of Albert Ferguson, who was head of Pitt Medical School. My interest turned toward building the bridge between clinicians and engineers.

How are engineering and medicine related?

The mechanics of the body are not too different from the mechanics we learn in engineering. The thought process of an engineer can be beneficial in medicine. The skills that I needed to be a skillful doctor in the long run were the skills I learned as an engineer. Engineering teaches you how to solve problems. Engineers always look at the whole picture, the whole process... We focus on the entire patient experience. Surgery is one part, but rapid rehab, specialized gyms and other things are part of the whole approach.

While the understanding of a potential closeness in engineering and medicine is now generally accepted, it wasn’t when you were applying to medical schools. How’d that go for you?

I always had to explain why I was going into medicine. Now, engineering is a very accepted pathway into medicine.

 

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