Born in Baldwyn, Mississippi in 1930, John Clifton McDonald received his B.S. from Mississippi College in 1951 and his M.D. from the Tulane School of Medicine in 1955. After serving a one-year internship at the Confederate Memorial Medical Center in Shreveport, he went to the Meyer Memorial Hospital in Buffalo, New York, where he completed his surgical residency in 1963 (see also). McDonald was a professor of surgery at the State University of New York at Buffalo from 1963 to 1968 and served as head of the University’s transplantation section from 1966 to 1968.
An appointment at the Tulane University School of Medicine brought him back to Louisiana in 1968, where he remained until 1977. McDonald moved north to Shreveport where he became professor and chairman of the Department of Surgery at the Louisiana State University School of Medicine. He oversaw a change in the primary mission of the department from the provision of surgical care to indigent patients to the development of tertiary surgical care programs in solid organ transplantation, burn surgery, pediatric surgery, trauma and critical care, surgical oncology, head and neck surgery, and plastic surgery. McDonald expanded the faculty from two part-time surgeons to twenty-seven full-time faculty surgeons. He integrated the Overton Brooks Veterans Administration Medical Center and the E.A. Conway Charity Hospital into the surgical residency program at LSU in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1989, the Willis-Knighton Medical Center became an affiliated institution and the primary hospital for the transplantation program.
At the same time that he was enhancing the services of the Surgery Department, McDonald was laying the foundation for his work in organ transplantation. His choice of specialty came in the late 1960s, when his mentor, Dr. John D. Stewart, suggested that he concentrate his interest in the new field of transplantation. This was a fortunate choice, since his pioneering work has been essential to the development of organ transplantation in the United States. He performed the second kidney transplant in the state of New York and introduced organ transplantation in north Louisiana with the establishment of the first kidney transplant program in Shreveport in 1977.
McDonald’s subsequent efforts brought heart, heart-lung, liver, kidney, and pancreas transplants to Shreveport. The Regional Transplant Center of Willis-Knighton and the Louisiana State University Medical Center was a result of an institutional partnership forged in 1995 by McDonald and James Elrod, president of Willis-Knighton. His groundbreaking work with the South-Eastern Organ Procurement Foundation led to a system of organ sharing and computerized matching. He also pioneered efforts to set standards for donors, transportation and matching. In 1986, McDonald assumed the presidency of the United Network of Organ Sharing, the first national system mandated by law to organize organ procurement and oversee all transplant centers in the United States. During his many years as a transplant surgeon, McDonald completed nearly 2,000 kidney, liver, and pancreas transplants.
McDonald served as chairman of the Surgery Department until November 2000, when he was approved by the LSU Board of Supervisors as the first chancellor and dean of the LSUHSC in Shreveport. Due to McDonald’s strong leadership, the Health Sciences Center became central to the economic growth and development of the region. In October 2001, LSUHSC-S was named “Industry of the Year” by the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce.
During his 32 year tenure at LSUHSC-S, McDonald was instrumental in the establishment of a regional burn center; an organ transplant center; a cancer treatment, education, and research center; a Level One trauma center; and a new ambulatory care facility. Nevertheless, McDonald still considered teaching to be his true calling. He received LSUHSC’s Clarence H. Webb Award for Outstanding Clinical Science Instructor in 1989 and 1997.
During his 23 years as chair of the Surgery Department, McDonald taught more than 100 medical residents in general surgery and mentored hundreds of medical students. All of the chief surgical residents who trained in his program have been certified by the American Board of Surgery. Even after he became Chancellor, he still met once a week with the surgery residents to review cases. In 2004, his accomplishments were recognized with the establishment of the John C. McDonald, M.D., Endowed Chair in Surgery.
McDonald’s remarks during his 2001 LSUHSC-S commencement address speak to his love of medicine and mankind: “The essence of a health sciences center is not bricks and mortar, rather it is a living, breathing organism. It is a place where dreams can and do become reality.”
Chancellor John C. McDonald retired in January 2009, bringing his 32 years of dedicated service to a close. His retirement years were short-lived, however. On December 31, 2011, Dr. McDonald passed away at 81 years of age. A memorial service was held at LSU Health Shreveport on January 5, 2012. Remarkable, humble, exceptional, caring, extraordinary, loyal, honest, and kind are but a few of the words used by colleagues to describe John Clifton McDonald. The wisdom of this educator, surgeon, scientist, and administrator will be missed by both LSU Health Shreveport and the greater Shreveport community.
Links to memorial service video