Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

Founder of the Emory PA Program

Willis Hurst

J. Willis Hurst, MD (1920-2011)

"I think teaching is the greatest profession there is,"         

~Dr. Hurst

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 were the humble beginnings that led Dr. Hurst to become one of the most revered and respected teachers of medicine and cardiology.

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. He began teaching at Emory in 1950.  In 1957, he was named Professor and Chairman of the Department of Medicine.

As knowledge and technology in medicine and cardiology grew, Dr. Hurst worked to ensure that no one in the Atlanta area would have to go elsewhere for care, particularly cardiac care. He recruited the finest teachers, researchers, and clinicians to the faculty of the School of Medicine. He expanded the research facilities at Emory, established the post-graduate program of continuing education, founded the program that became the Physician Assistant program, created a cardiac catheterization laboratory on the Emory campus, and increased the length of the cardiology training program, among other achievements.

Dr. Hurst was also an excellent clinician, sought after by people across the nation and the world for cardiac care. Dr. Hurst served as a personal cardiologist to former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was 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.

In the late 1990s, Dr. Hurst wrote and published The Quest for Excellence: The History of the Department of Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, 1834-1986. He also wrote a children's book, The Heart: The Kids' Question and Answer Book, with his grandson. A novel, Prescription for Greed, co-written with his son Phil Hurst, was published in November 2000.

Dr. Hurst was 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. He received numerous awards and teaching honors. The Internal Medicine Residency program at Emory is named in his honor.


Emory Medical School History

Atlanta's first medical college was established in the decade after the city was named and the decade before the Civil War. The college was a precursor to the Emory University School of Medicine – one of the foremost private facilities for medical education in the Southeast. The school is located on the Emory campus in Atlanta's historic Druid Hills area and in Emory medical facilities downtown.