American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

“On the Shoulders of Giants”: Robert McClelland, MD

Drs. Jeyarajah and McLellandMy first interaction with the legendary Robert McClelland, MD, was when I joined the faculty as a young, wide-eyed surgeon at Parkland Hospital in 1997. I was straight out of fellowship, and the leadership did not know what to do with me. One thing to my credit: I KNEW that I did not know much and that I needed help. Parkland was an institution of greats, including Dr. Jim Carrico, Dr. Erwin Thal, Dr. Bill Snyder, just to mention a few. And, of course, the “Dalai Lama,” as I call my friend “Dr. Mac.”

Everyone knew that this man was great. Dr. McClelland was the first surgeon in the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area to take on those tough cases that nobody wanted to perform. However, his most well-known role was taking care of President John F. Kennedy when he arrived at Parkland on that fateful day in November 1963. Dr. McClelland was the surgeon who literally held the president’s head in his hands as he died. Dr. Mac also operated on Lee Harvey Oswald just two short days later. Later, he became world renowned for writing Selected Readings in General Surgery, the up-to-date reading for all trainees.

The man would sit in his office, which was wood paneled from top to bottom and contained books and journals of all kinds. Dr. Mac would have his headphones on as he dictated the next edition of his book. He would possess internal medicine and surgical journals alike, always saying that a doctor needed to know what the other side is doing. Dr. Mac was a living encyclopedia of medical facts. The difference was that Dr. Mac could back every one with experience. Not many can say that they performed a right hepatectomy and then an esophagectomy all in the same day . . . and also know every bit of data that goes with the disease.

I learned quickly that having Dr. Mac by your side during a big surgery was the only way to go. He would simply be in the room and scrub if you insisted. Mostly, he sat in the corner and worked on his laptop (quite avant guard back then) and would gently give you the confidence you needed. I remember doing a liver resection, and I asked Dr. Mac to scrub. His response was, “I can still hear the suction, Rohan. You are fine!”

He is a giant of medicine. He was the consummate surgeon who brought complex gastrointestinal and hepato-pancreato-biliary surgery into the realm of safety in DFW. Carrying his famous portal hypertension thumb screws and Lin Clamps in his car from hospital to hospital, he always did what was right for the patient and never worried about local politics.

This man is a true surgical legend. I am honored to call him my mentor and my friend.