John M. Beal, MD, FACS, was a dedicated and well-respected surgeon who devoted his professional life to academic surgery. He was the 1982-1983 President of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) and served as the Chair of the ACS Board of Regents from 1980-1982. His widespread presence in the surgical community reached into the areas of academic-based practice and teaching, in addition to playing an active role in many of the 25 professional medical societies that he held membership in.
Dr. Beal was born in Starkville, Mississippi, where he attended school through the eighth grade. Upon his father being appointed as a professor of botany at the University of Chicago, the Beal family headed north. Young John Beal received further education at the University of Chicago, first as a high school student at the Laboratory Schools of the University of Chicago, then continuing on at the University of Chicago for his undergraduate degree where he found an interest in the biological subjects, an attraction that would steer him toward medical school. He earned his MD in 1941 from New York Hospital, Cornell Medical Center.1
Dr. Beal next completed an internship and later a position as an assistant resident surgeon at The New York Hospital. Professional appointments followed, first as an instructor of surgery at Cornell University Medical College and then at the University of California School of Medicine, Los Angeles. He rose through the ranks of the profession to become chief of the division of surgery at Passavant Memorial Hospital, emeritus professor in the department of surgery at Northwestern University, Chicago, and culminated his career as emeritus professor in the department of surgery at North Carolina University.1
It was in 1953 that Dr. Beal became a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (FACS). During his presidential address, delivered at the beginning of his term as ACS president, he said, “The expansion of medical education and research has been accompanied by remarkable developments in technology, therapy, and diagnostic methods that were undreamed of 50 years ago.”2
Throughout his years of ACS leadership, Dr. Beal was an advocate for uniting the surgical community around patient care. He said, “…if there are disputes between competing specialties, the first issue to be addressed is whether the quality of patient care is being maintained.” He also noted, “Although the problems associated with medical liability are complex and an immediate solution is unlikely, I believe that improvement can be achieved by a united approach by the surgical community.”2
One of the aspects of Dr. Beal’s involvement with the ACS while he was a member was his effort to strengthen the relationship between female surgeons and the College. “The number of women surgeons was increasing and it would be worth while trying to increase their interest in the College,” said Dr. Beal. There were a series of meetings and luncheons for the female surgeons at the ACS around the time of Dr. Beal’s involvement and he had attended them regularly to a favorable reception.
Dr. Beal dispersed his vast knowledge as the author of numerous surgical textbook chapters and clinical journal articles throughout his distinguished career. But his clinical legacy is tied to his work in perfecting gallbladder operations. He was best known for his research and clinical activity in the gallbladder and biliary duct system, according to David Nahrwold, MD, FACS, who succeeded Dr. Beal as chair of Northwestern’s surgery department in 1982. "He wrote about how to take out the gallbladder and how to operate on biliary ducts, the small tubes that lead from the liver to the intestine."3
- Beal JM. John M. Beal Oral History Interview. American College of Surgeons Archives. April 2003.
- Beal JM. Presidential Address: Unity of Purpose. American College of Surgeons Archives. 1982.
- Megan G. Dr. John Beal Jr., 1915-2013. Available at: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-06-14/news/ct-met-john-beal-obit-20130614_1_surgery-surgeon-teaching-hospital. Accessed July 25, 2013.
ACS Archives Highlights is a series showcasing the vibrant history of the American College of Surgeons, its members, and the history of surgery. For further information on our featured highlights, search the Archives Catalog or contact the ACS Archivist.