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J. Willis Hurst, MD (1920-2011)

Dr. J. Willis Hurst grew up in a house full of teachers--his father, an aunt, and another teacher who shared the house with the Hurst family. Thus it seems logical that Dr. Hurst became one of the most revered and respected teachers of medicine and cardiology of his time.

Dr. Hurst is known for his love of teaching. "I think teaching is the greatest profession there is," says Dr. Hurst. "I've always found it exciting to try to create an environment where young trainees, students, house officers, and fellows can learn. That's what I've tried to do." As a result of Dr. Hurst's success in building the cardiology program at Emory, a position as a cardiology resident in the Emory program became a highly-coveted prize. Seventy percent of living Emory Medical School alumni were overseen by Dr. Hurst in his position as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Medicine.

An outstanding teacher and writer, Dr. Hurst was also an excellent clinician, sought after by people across the nation and the world for cardiac care. Dr. Hurst served as personal cardiologist to former U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as other government leaders.

Dr. Hurst was a post-graduate student and cardiac fellow under Dr. Paul Dudley White, the "father of American cardiology," at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. After completing his fellowship in Boston, Dr. Hurst came to Atlanta and went into private practice as one of only six cardiologists in the city. In addition to his practice of cardiology, he lectured, wrote, and taught.

Dr. Hurst began teaching at Emory in 1950, believing that his interests in teaching, writing, and research could best be pursued in the setting of academic medicine. In 1957, he was named Professor and Chairman of the Department of Medicine. During his 30 year tenure as chairman, Dr. Hurst recruited dozens of new faculty members to the School of Medicine, increasing the faculty from 14 to over 140 and developing a strong education program in medicine.

As knowledge and technology in medicine and cardiology grew, Dr. Hurst, who was one of the founding fathers of the Emory Clinic, worked to ensure that no one in the Atlanta area or Georgia would have to go elsewhere for care, particularly cardiac care. He achieved this goal by adding the finest teachers, researchers, and clinicians to the faculty of the School of Medicine; working to expand the research facilities at Emory; establishing the post-graduate program of continuing education; originating the Physician Assistant program; creating a cardiac catheterization laboratory on the Emory campus; and increasing the length of the cardiology training program, among other achievements.

Dr. Hurst is the author or editor of almost 400 scientific articles and over 60 books, including The Heart, widely considered to be the "bible" of cardiology. The Heart has been translated into five languages.

Dr. Hurst is a past president of the American Heart Association and the Association of Professors of Medicine. He served on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Council and was Chairman of the Cardiovascular Board. Dr. Hurst has received numerous awards and teaching honors, but he is most proud of the teaching awards he has received from students, house staff and fellows.

Dr. Hurst recently stated: "I always felt lucky that I was able to be professor and chairman of the Department of Medicine and continue my role in cardiology and continue to do clinical research. At all times, I continued to see patients."

In the late 1990's, Dr. Hurst wrote and published The Quest for Excellence: The History of the Department of Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, 1834-1986. Dr. Hurst continues his active involvement at Emory by writing and teaching on a daily basis.

Dr. Hurst also continues as Consultant to the Division of Cardiology of Emory University. In that role, he teaches 8 sessions per week and writes the remainder of the time. He continues to produce one to two scientific books each year and recently wrote a children's book, The Heart: The Kids' Question and Answer Book, with his grandson. The novel, Prescription for Greed, written with his son Phil Hurst, was published in November, 2000.

The family will receive friends on Friday, October 7, from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. at H.M. Patterson & Son-Spring Hill Chapel, 1020 Spring Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30309. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, October 8, at Northside United Methodist Church, 2799 Northside Drive, Atlanta, GA  30305. There will be a gathering for family and friends immediately following the service.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be directed to the J. Willis Hurst Internal Medicine Residency Program, Emory University, 1440 Clifton Road NE, WHSCAB 170, Atlanta, GA, 30322.

See a Real media video (Requires the free real media player) with Dr Hurst teaching PA students about professionalism click here

View a copy of the conversation between J Willis Hurst and Eugene Stead in 1998 about PA programs