John Kirklin

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John Webster Kirklin (born August 5, 1917 in Muncie, Indiana; died April 21, 2004 in Birmingham) was a pioneering heart surgeon and researcher, chair of the University of Alabama School of Medicine's Department of Surgery, chief surgeon at UAB Hospital, and namesake of the Kirklin Clinic.

Kirklin's father was director of radiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Minnesota in 1938 and his doctor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in 1942. He was commissioned a Captain in the U.S. Army and served from 1944 to 1946, after which he spent six months at Boston Children's Hospital.

He completed an internship at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital and a fellowship in surgery at the Mayo Clinic. That training led to a master's degree in surgery from the University of Minnesota graduate school and a staff position at the clinic in 1950.

While a cardiovascular surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, Kirklin helped develop heart-lung bypass technology, making possible numerous procedures, termed "open heart" surgeries, that had never before been reliably undertaken. He was named the clinic's first chairman of surgery and performed numerous new procedures himself, focusing on the repair of congenital heart defects. He contributed hundreds of articles to the medical literature and, with his colleague, Brian Baratt-Boyes, co-authored the exhaustive textbook Cardiac Surgery, published in 1956. He also sat on numerous editorial boards, and served for a time as editor of The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery.

Kirklin arrived at UAB on November 1, 1966 and guided the development of the school's surgery department into a world-class program. He continued to push for innovations in surgical practice, helping develop computerized intensive care units for continuous monitoring of vital functions. He was awarded the Lister Medal by the Royal College of Surgeons in England in 1973.

Kirklin also contributed to the improvement of the UAB Medical Center, specifically by guiding the establishment of the UAB Health Services Foundation to leverage retirement contributions from faculty and staff into investments in the further development of the medical center with non-profit physician practices.

Kirklin retired from teaching in 1982 and from surgery in 1989. The Kirklin Clinic, developed by the UAB Health Services Foundation and modeled after the Mayo Clinic,

Kirklin was injured in an accidental fall in January 2004 and he died from complications that April.


  • Kirklin, John W. & Brian Baratt-Boyes (1956) Cardiac Surgery: Morphology, Diagnostic Criteria, Natural History, Techniques, Results, and Indications. Churchill Livingstone