Donald Quest’70 Receives Columbia’s Alumni Medal

Donald Quest’70 being interviewed for a video that was shown this fall when the 2014 alumni medalists were honored at the Columbia Alumni Association Leaders Assembly Gala

Donald O. Quest received one of 10 alumni medals given in 2014 by Columbia University to recognize graduates for distinguished service of 10 years or more to the University. Dr. Quest left Columbia for two years of internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital after graduating from P&S and two years as an attending neurosurgeon at SUNY Downstate before returning and spending the rest of his career at P&S.

Born in St. Louis, Dr. Quest attended the University of Illinois on a Navy scholarship and served as a combat pilot in Vietnam aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kittyhawk. With no formal guidance, he applied to two medical schools while serving in Vietnam and was accepted to both. While waiting to enroll at P&S, he worked as an orderly at Presbyterian Hospital and took organic chemistry at Columbia’s School of General Studies.

 He was impressed by the quality of his classmates and the Columbia environment, but he felt different from other medical students. “I was older than my fellow classmates. There were very few students who didn’t come directly out of college. I had been a warrior for four and a half years. It was a lot more enjoyable studying for biochemistry than getting shot at over Hanoi. I was very grateful that I survived harrowing experiences, not only in combat but landing an airplane on an aircraft carrier is pretty harrowing even when they’re not shooting at you. I was a lot more relaxed as a student than some of my fellow classmates who hadn’t gone through experiences like that.”

At P&S, Dr. Quest found neuroanatomy interesting—though “almost everything appealed to me; that’s one of the great things about medicine”—and decided to become a neurosurgeon. “I did some work in the summer after my first year in the operating rooms in neurosurgery and I liked the intellectual challenge. And I enjoyed being around the people who did neurosurgery. J. Lawrence Pool’32 was one of my mentors. He went to P&S, he was a world class neurosurgeon, he was a national squash champion when he was in college. He was an amazing person and one of the most impressive people I have ever met. He mentored me and guided me, and I said I want to be like these people.”

At P&S, Dr. Quest rose through the faculty ranks to become the J. Lawrence Pool Professor of Neurological Surgery. He also is an assistant dean for student affairs. He served as vice chair and acting chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery and plays trombone for a neurosurgery jazz quintet. An active member of the P&S Alumni Association for many years, he also served as president of the association for two years.

“I owe a tremendous amount of my career and my life to Columbia and to P&S,” says Dr. Quest, “so it’s a no-brainer to be involved giving back to the organization, to the university, and to the medical school. In large measure P&S and Columbia have made me what I am. I have been able to fulfill my dream of becoming a doctor, serve my patients, and help lead my department and the medical school in becoming the best that it can be.”