The American College of Surgeons (ACS) recently published a new biography of C. Rollins Hanlon, MD, FACS, ACS Past-Director, a seminal figure in the history of surgery and the College, titled The Conscience of Surgery: C. Rollins Hanlon, MD, FACS. Written by David L. Nahrwold, MD, FACS, this account examines the life of the erudite, principled cardiothoracic surgeon and innovator, who co-developed the Blalock-Hanlon operation with Alfred P. Blalock, MD, FACS.
The book covers every aspect of Dr. Hanlon’s life—from his boyhood in Baltimore, MD, to his quest to be the best clinician and surgeon-scientist, to his views on the government’s increasing influence on the delivery of surgical care, and to his undying love of the written word. For many surgeons, Dr. Hanlon was the embodiment of what it means to be a Fellow of the ACS.
“I got to know [Dr. Hanlon] as a person and a professional during my stint as the Interim Director of the ACS in 1999 when he was ‘retired’ and serving as Executive Consultant,” Dr. Nahrwold writes in the book’s preface. “He insisted that the mission of the College was to advance the ethical and competent practice of surgery and not to improve the financial well-being of surgeons.”
Throughout his career, Dr. Hanlon’s mentors, colleagues, and students included many eminent surgeons at Johns Hopkins Medical School, Baltimore, MD; Cincinnati General Hospital, OH; and the University of California, San Francisco. He trained under Dean DeWitt Lewis, Walter E. Dandy, Howard C. Naffziger, Warfield “Monty” Firor, and Mont Reid (all MD, FACS). He worked alongside William P. Longmire, MD, FACS; Dr. Blalock; and Mark C. Ravitch, MD, FACS; and his residents and interns at St. Louis University, MO, included Vallee Willman, Theodore Cooper, Theodore Dubuque, and William Stoneman (all MD, FACS), among others.
Dr. Hanlon served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, and followed with a distinguished career at Johns Hopkins and at St. Louis University, where, as chair of surgery, he developed the institution’s cardiac research capabilities, which helped to pioneer early open-heart and heart transplant procedures.
Dr. Hanlon became a Fellow of the College in 1953 and served as the ACS Director for 17 years (1969–1986), making him the longest-serving Director to date. Additionally, he served on the Board of Regents and as the ACS President (1985–1986). After retirement, he stayed on as ACS Executive Consultant, offering his sage advice to his successors, including Paul A. Ebert, MD, FACS; Samuel Wells, MD, FACS; Dr. Nahrwold; Thomas R. Russell, MD, FACS; and David B. Hoyt, MD, FACS. Through these positions, Dr. Hanlon had a profound effect on the direction and philosophy of the College, including in philanthropic endeavors and the establishment of the ACS Archives. He received the first ACS Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.
“Hanlon’s integrity, faith, hard work, and service to others led him to become a role model for physicians and laypersons alike. These attributes also drove his brilliant career as an innovative surgeon, leadership in academic and organized medicine, and reputation as a humanist and ethicist,” Dr. Narhwold concludes in the preface. “Before he died I knew that I must write his biography to expose his principled life, his goodness, and his devotion to surgery and to surgeons, especially young surgeons, with the hope that they and others will find his life worthy of study and emulation.”
Dr. Nahrwold is Emeritus Professor of Surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, where he was the Loyal and Edith Davis Professor and Chairman, department of surgery, and surgeon-in-chief, Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He is a recipient of the College’s highest honor—the Distinguished Service Award.
Dr. Nahrwold is author of A Mirror Reflecting Surgery, Surgeons, and their College: The Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons, and co-author, with Peter J. Kernahan, MD, PhD, FACS, of A Century of Surgeons and Surgery: The American College of Surgeons 1913–2012.