George F. Sheldon, MD, FACS, FRCS Edin (Hon), FRCS Eng (Hon)
(20 December 1934–16 June 2013)
George F. Sheldon, MD, FACS, passed away on Sunday, June 16, 2013 after a short illness. He spent his last days at UNC Hospital surrounded by his family.
Dr. Sheldon was born in Salina, Kansas, where he grew up around medical practices. He was a third generation physician—his maternal grandfather, Dr. George F. Zerzan, practiced in Holyrood, Kansas, and his father, Richard Robert Sheldon, practiced in Salina, Kansas.
He married Ruth Dawn Guy in Hutchinson, Kansas on August 23, 1958. The two would go on to have three daughters and enjoy 55 years together.
Dr. Sheldon had a B.A. in History and a M.D. from the University of Kansas. Following internship at KU, he performed his military service in the Uniformed Service (Coast Guard) of the United States Public Health Services, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He then did a Fellowship in Internal Medicine at the Mayo Clinic, and his surgery residency at the University of California-San Francisco, where he became Chief Resident. He also completed Fellowships at the National Heart Institute and Harvard Medical School.
In 1971, Dr. Sheldon joined the University of California, San Francisco, as Chief of the Trauma and Hyperalimentation Services at San Francisco General Hospital. He then became Professor of Surgery in 1980.
In 1984, Dr. Sheldon joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as Chairman of the Department of Surgery and became the Zack D. Owens Distinguished Professor of Surgery and Social Medicine. During his seventeen years as Chair, he made many changes to the department that resulted in substantial program growth and expansion of department services. He pushed for extensive recruitment of young surgeons, and was particularly pro-active in the recruitment of minority and female surgeons.
Dr. Sheldon was one of fewer than twenty surgeons in the past one hundred years to be president of all of the major surgical organizations, including President of the American College of Surgeons, President of the American Surgical Association, President of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, and Chair of the American Board of Surgery. He was a Charter Member of the Council on Graduate Medical Education (COGME) when it was founded in 1985 under the Department of Health and Human Services, and was a lifelong champion of Graduate Medical Education.
He held Honorary Fellowships in the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland, the European Surgical Association, the British Columbia Surgical Association, the Colombian Surgical Association, and the Society of Black Academic Surgeons. He has received numerous professional awards, including the Kansas University School of Medicine Distinguished Alumna Award, the University of North Carolina Medical Alumni Association’s Distinguished Faculty Award, the Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Arts and Sciences of The University of Kansas, and was named as the Distinguished Service Member by the Association of American Medical Colleges. In 2011, he was presented with the prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2012, he was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American College of Surgeons, an honor that has only been bestowed once previously.
At the University of North Carolina, Dr. Sheldon was a member of the Faculty Council and the Faculty Assembly of the University of North Carolina system. He was Director of the American College of Surgeons Health Policy Research Institute and Senior Research Fellow of the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. His recent interests and expertise included the impact of health care reform on physician shortages and he testified before Congress on that subject. He was Editor-in-Chief of eFACS.org, the web portal of the American College of Surgeons. He authored over 400 articles and book chapters.
Along with Surgery, Dr. Sheldon had a lifelong love of American history. He was an authority on early Colonial medical history, writing several articles on the subject. He co-authored The Pictorial History of Kansas Medicine (1961) and was sole author of Hugh Williamson: Physician, Patriot, and Founding Father (2010). He was particularly interested in the life of Philip Syng Physick, “The Father of American Surgery,” and was in the process of writing a book on Physick at the time of his death.
Dr. Sheldon trained hundreds of residents and fellows, and mentored countless medical students and faculty members. He was keenly interested in knowing about others’ educational goals, even during his last days in the hospital, where he would engage the staff who were assisting in his care in discussions about their lives. He also enjoyed watching sports and news, and had a great fondness for his pets, most recently, cats Theo and Ireland. He treasured family trips to the family cabin in Colorado, and was planning a visit there in August.
Dr. Sheldon is survived by his wife Ruth, of Chapel Hill, NC; three daughters: Anne Sheldon Anderson of Citrus Heights, CA; Elizabeth (Betsy) Sheldon of Orangevale, CA, and Dr. Julia Sheldon, of Carmichael, CA. He also leaves behind two brothers (Richard Robert Sheldon II, Ph.D. and William F. Sheldon, Ph.D.) and four grandchildren.
Burial will be in Salina, Kansas, and a memorial will be held in the fall at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the George F. Sheldon Distinguished Professorship at UNC-Chapel Hill, to the Richard and Helen Sheldon Fund at KU, or to the SPCA.
A remembrance page for Dr. Sheldon has been set up at http://georgesheldonremembered.web.unc.edu where people are encouraged to leave their memories.