American Surgical Association Transactions

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1929 - 2019

Robert N. McClelland, 1929-2019

Dr. Robert N. McClelland, Emeritus Professor of Surgery, died on September 10, 2019, after an extended illness. He was elected to membership in the American Surgical Association in 1974. Dr. McClelland spent his entire career at UT Southwestern following graduation from medical school. Generations of students, residents, and faculty members knew this humble giant as "Dr. Mac." His profound impact on the training of surgeons at UT Southwestern extended over six decades.

Dr. McClelland’s first contact with what would become UT Southwestern was working one high school summer at the Old Parkland Hospital at Maple and Oak Lawn Avenues. He obtained an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and he attended medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch, receiving his medical doctorate the year that Parkland Hospital moved to its first Harry Hines Boulevard location. He trained in general surgery at UT Southwestern and Parkland Hospital, completing his training one year prior to events that would change his life forever.

In 1963 as a young faculty member, he found himself at the head of the stretcher in the Parkland Emergency Room during the desperate attempt to save the life of President, John F. Kennedy. Dr. McClelland described this episode as so vividly etched in his memory that it seemed to have happened yesterday. He began the Selected Readings in General Surgery out of requests from former residents for copies of the papers discussed in a journal club that he had started. Initially, copies of the reviewed papers were printed personally by Dr. McClelland on a printing press in his office and hand assembled by residents and their wives. The journal club became the Department of Surgery's Selected Readings Conference, held every Saturday morning and led by Dr. McClelland. Subscriptions to the Selected Readings in General Surgery extended worldwide. Over the five year period of a general surgery residency, the Selected Readings in General Surgery covered the entire field of general surgery. At one point, estimates were that more than 60% of the general surgery residents in America read the Selected Readings in General Surgery.

As an outgrowth of the journal club and the Selected Readings Conference, Dr. McClelland held an annual board preparation session at his home in Dallas, attended by the recently graduated chief residents in general surgery from UT Southwestern and other Dallas surgery residencies. The liver surgery program at UT Southwestern began under Dr. McClelland’s leadership. He also provided support for surgeons in Dallas who recognized him as a font of knowledge and experience, particularly in the management of liver disease. He rose to the rank of professor in just nine years, and he became the first holder of the Alvin Baldwin, Jr. Chair in Surgery. He was named an Emeritus Professor of Surgery upon his retirement.

Residents who finished the general surgery program at UT Southwestern took with them Dr. McClelland’s phone number, and he received countless phone calls over the years from throughout the world from former residents seeking discussions about difficult cases. A remarkable feature of Dr. McClelland’s life was his prodigious reading, particularly in surgery. In support of the Selected Readings in General Surgery he read dozens of journals. In support of his love of history, he drew articles from over 100 journals to which he subscribed. Many conversations with him in his later life began with "what are you reading Dr. Mac?" There is a wall of pictures in Parkland Memorial Hospital established by the former Parkland trained residents commemorating the "Giants of General Surgery." Dr. McClelland is the titan among those giants. Academic surgery skipped a beat on September 10, 2019, and UT Southwestern lost one of its heroes.