Dr. McDonald always concluded his talk on “Professionalism” that he delivered each year to the incoming freshmen class of medical students with the following statement:

“I close with commending to you an observation that most of the wisdom of mankind has been reduced to aphorisms. I enjoy aphorisms, particularly trite aphorisms. Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, collected aphorisms. One, which I commend to you, is as follows:

‘The art is long, and life is short; the crisis is fleeting, experience deceiving, and judgment is difficult.’ Perhaps it can all be simplified to the aphorism of the old testament prophet who said: ‘What is expected of man except that he live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly in the presence of his God.’”

Following are excerpts from some of Dr. John C. McDonald’s lectures, speeches, and interviews – in short, his words of wisdom.

 
 
Dr. McDonald’s motto…
 
“Do the best that you can do everyday and do what you think is right.”

From “Dr. John McDonald: LSUHSC Brings Frontier Care to Everybody” in the Shreveport Times December 29, 2002

 
On how he chose his specialty…
 
“In the fall of 1962 at the dawn of the age of human transplantation I sought Dr. John Stewart’s help. I had decided after six years of post medical school training that I wanted an academic career. This required an appointment in as medical school with research opportunities. In plain talk, I wanted him to give me a job, and I asked him for one. He listened quietly and then asked me what I proposed to study? Since I had already spent a year in his own laboratory studying liver function and had some ideas relative to liver function and nutrition, I suggested that topic.

He said, ‘I have someone studying that problem, John.’ The prospects for a job did not seem too bright at that moment. Like any good Mississippian, I had learned from our history that when your back’s against the wall, it’s time to be flexible. So I said, ‘Dr, Stewart, What would you suggest that I study?’ He responded by saying, ‘Transplantation is likely to be important for the next several decades, and if you would be willing to go to the immunology department for a couple of years, perhaps we could start a transplantation program.’ I suddenly developed a remarkable interest in transplantation. It is wonderful advice and has given me a great pleasure for over 30 years, as well as the opportunity to make a few contributions. I relate this episode to demonstrate the principle that, when some older and experienced person gives you advice, it is sometimes worth following.”

From “A Mississippian’s Journey into Organ Transplantation” (see also) a lecture delivered to the Wilk-Amite Medical Society at the Field Memorial Community Hospital in Centreville, Mississippi on April 8, 1993

 
 
On his chosen specialty…
 

“I thank my immunology teacher and professor, Dr. Felix Milgrom for introducing me into the wonders of his discipline. July 1 will mark 25 years since I entered his laboratories. In 1963 Dr. Milgrom accepted two research fellows who had just completed their surgical training, Dr. Loren Humphrey and myself. I don’t believe he has ever done that again. Being a classic European professor, he was not accustomed, I might say even unprepared, for fellows who would actually argue, who debated their ideas with vigor, and did not automatically accept his opinions or direction. Those two years were a great learning experience for all of us including Dr. Milgrom. They were happy and productive times. Since then I have gained immeasurable pleasure from being a foot soldier in that small army which has taken organ transplantation from the realm of science fiction to common therapy in about 30 years.”

From “History, Irony and Perception” (see also) the 1988 Presidential Address delivered to the American Society of Transplant Surgeons

 
 
On his first kidney transplant…
 
Click here to access a video of Dr. McDonald’s remarks about the first kidney transplant he performed in the autumn of 1964 while still an immunology fellow.

From Surgery Grand Rounds at LSUHSC-S on June 13, 1995

 
 
On transplantation…
 

“There are said to be four foundation stones upon which civilizations exist. One is a common set of mores and folkways. Without this the civilization cannot continue. There is no center to hold it together. Thus, to abandon the principle that each individual is sacred is not a step to be taken without peril to us all. But, of course, cynicism is said to be a part of the aging process. Perhaps my concerns are symptoms rather than sound reasoning. Yet, I cannot help but wonder: What hath been wrought by my generation of surgical scientists?” 

From “Challenge of Transplantation” a lecture delivered
at the Medical-Surgical Nursing Conference in Shreveport on
March 31, 1995 

 
 
“Genetically engineering a sub-human species to supply organs is probably feasible, if we have the stomach for it. Transplantation will likely greatly alter how we think of ourselves and our place in the universe. Possibly as much or more than any other event since Copernicus discovered that the earth was not the center of the universe.” 

From “Forty Years of Transplantation” (see also) a lecture delivered at the Tulane University Medical Center Alumni Study Club on October 13, 1995

 
 
“Wise men have commonly counseled caution in relying upon personal perception. It is true that when one looks at a problem one gains a certain picture; when one takes two steps to the right, the perception changes. That is, take two steps from your original position and truth changes. A corollary would be that wisdom is related to ones ability to look at a problem from several viewpoints. One of the lessons I have learned in approaching these complex problems is the truth of this simple concept. The problems related to delivering the service of transplantation are seen very differently by the patients, the government, the immunogeneticist, the physicians, philanthropic organizations, and surgeons. The truth does not lie within any one view, but merges only after the entire composition has been viewed.” 

From “History, Irony and Perception” (see also) the 1988 Presidential Address delivered to the American Society of
Transplant Surgeons

 
 
When the Holy Grail is found, human transplantation will become safe, predictable, durable, and much less expensive. It will certainly be worth the odyssey no matter how long. It has been a great privilege for me to be a soldier in this army of scholars for some 32 of the 41 years of study.”

From “In Search of the Holy Grail” (see also) the 1994 Presidential Address delivered to the Southern Surgical Association 

 
 
“It still seems miraculous to me to realize that transplantation has come from science fiction to clinical reality within one professional lifetime. But it is not a miracle. It is an example of what can be done when enough brainpower is focused on a problem and given the resources to do it. Transplantation science has been almost unique because it has drawn the attention of thousands of the best scientific minds in the world and it drew them from all disciplines: surgeons, internists, biochemists, immunologists, biologists, etc. It is a tribute to modern communication systems and the international free sharing of information. It is also unusual since no great single insight has driven the field, such as the discovery of anesthesia, asepsis, penicillin; rather many small steps provided by many individuals have built the science.”

From “A Mississippian’s Journey into Organ Transplantation” (see also) a lecture delivered to the Wilk-Amite Medical Society at the Field Memorial Community Hospital in Centreville, Mississippi on
April 8, 1993

 
 
“It’s no longer a little, private, personal, intellectual enterprise. Most of us have been in this business for 25 years, and we started thinking of transplantation as a sort of a marvelous experimental model. And we spent about 20 years trying to do it. And all of a sudden we can. That’s an enormous, wonderful accomplishment. But all of that time, in trying to make it possible scientifically, none of us paid any attention to how to deliver the service when the service became available. You see, we’re a bunch of ivory-towered, scholarly, absent-minded professors out here working on rats and rabbits – and trying to make things work. But we haven’t spent much time on if it works, how are we going to deliver it? It’s not an easy process to go within four or five years from a small investigative clinical experimentation program to a national health delivery system. So all of a sudden, it’s possible. The public wants to know who are all of these damn cowboys back here who have the ability to do this and haven’t made any provision for doing it?” 

From “Dr. John McDonald: Dedicated to LSU Medical Center’s Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network” in the Shreveport Journal August 19, 1988

 
 
On his career in organ transplantation…
 
“I’ve had the pleasure of living through, in one professional career, the conversion of a highly experimental process [organ transplantation]. At that time it seemed like space travel. It was new and it was exciting…” 

From “Dr. John McDonald: LSU Surgery Chief a Pioneer in Field of Transplantation” in the Shreveport Times September 20, 1987

 
 
On organ donation…
 
“The donor supply [of organs] is totally inadequate. The total number of people who unavoidably die each year who have organs that could be transplanted has been estimated as between 10,000 and 30,000. Today, only 4,000 to 5,000 agree to organ donation. The public must realize that it has become immoral for organs to be buried that would restore others to health, and I expect that it will be against the law before another 30 years has passed.”

From “A Mississippian’s Journey into Organ Transplantation” (see also) a lecture delivered to the Wilk-Amite Medical Society at the Field Memorial Community Hospital in Centreville, Mississippi on
April 8, 1993

 
 
On medical ethics…
 
“Transplantation science, genetic engineering, transgenic science are areas which will redefine our ethics – all of which tends ultimately to redefine man in a more animalistic or materialistic way. What is the individual worth? Who survives? Is the individual worth whatever some group defines as its worth to the species? I have always thought, when contemplating these questions, that subsequent generations would have to make these choices. But, it has all happened so quickly. It is now upon us. At this moment, a revolution in health care is being contemplated. So these choices may have to be made by this current generation. Perhaps with a transplant or two, we may see it through.” 

From “A Mississippian’s Journey into Organ Transplantation” (see also) a lecture delivered to the Wilk-Amite Medical Society at the Field Memorial Community Hospital in Centreville, Mississippi on
April 8, 1993 

 
 
On education…
 
“…[this] is the best advice I have. You cannot have too much knowledge, you cannot get too much education. So, start today, do it now! You are at the ideal age for learning, your minds are agile, and your memories are good. So, go wherever you have to go. Do whatever you have to do. Pay whatever price you have to pay, but do it.” 

From the address presented to high school students at the 2nd Annual Gregory Tarver Scholarship Awards Ceremony in Shreveport on April 5, 2001

 
 
On learning and knowledge…
 
“I meditated over what I could or should say today that would have some impact. I considered talking about teaching. The Lord knows I have done enough of it. I believe that I have had some teaching contact with almost 5,000 medical students. And, there are about 125 surgeons that I have trained who are now in practice. But what could I say? If you were sitting on the Isle of Cos some 2,500 years ago being taught by Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, the principles would be much the same. The database of human knowledge is infinitely larger, but the process of learning is unchanged. It takes a data source and a willing mind. It requires discipline, and it is work. Knowledge is not acquired by passive diffusion, it is acquired by work.” 

From the 2003 Commencement Address (see also) delivered at the Louisiana State University at Eunice on May 24, 2003

 
 
On equality…
 
“I believe we really have a realistic opportunity of realizing, in this new century, the ancient dream that all men are created equal. But, do not be deceived, that will not guarantee success. Success will not come to you without your personal discipline and work. No one will give it to you. Your only guarantee is the opportunity to strive on a level playing field.”

From the address presented to high school students at the 2nd Annual Gregory Tarver Scholarship Awards Ceremony in Shreveport on April 5, 2001

 
 
On life…
 
“I thank you for inviting me to be visiting professor in this great institution. I am honored to be here. Initially I thought it an appropriate time to reflect upon lessons I have learned that might be helpful to more junior members of the audience, which is almost everyone here. I attempted to write such a talk for several weeks without success. Finally it came to me that the reason I could not write it was that I have learned very little in the last 40 years about conduct, wisdom, virtue, etc., that I did not know at 30. In every culture and every religion courage is preferred to cowardliness, honesty to dishonesty, diligence and discipline to laziness and sloth, but you have already learned that, and if you haven’t you probably never will. The problem is not in the knowing, it is in the doing. Faulkner made it clear in his great novel, Light in August, how complex and confusing life appears when looking forward and how predestined and simple it appears looking backward. So, as Forrest Gump said, that’s all I have to say about that.” 

From “Transplantation as a Model of Medical Progress” a lecture delivered as Visiting Professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine on October 13, 2000

 
 
On the value of life…
 
“The problem is that the older the population the more money it requires to extend life for shorter and shorter times. Life expectancy can be extended at a modest investment of money for the first four to five decades of life. But, somewhere about the age of 55 the curve takes a vertical turn. So that you get less and less prolongation of life for more and more cost. For example, in this age group heart operations are commonly required which may cost $50,000 to $75,000 to increase the life expectancy of one person for a few years. The corollary to this reasoning is that the cost of immortality is infinite.” 

From the 2003 Commencement Address (see also) delivered at the Louisiana State University at Eunice on May 24, 2003 

 
 
On aging…
 
“I think the aphorism is true that one’s interest in history increases the closer one gets to becoming history. I do remind the class that we are all becoming history at the same rate of speed. Some of us only started a little earlier than others.” 

Click here to access a video from “A Brief History of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center – Shreveport” (see also) at the 2001 LSUHSC-S Commencement Address on
June 2, 2001

 
 
On happiness…
 
“There are happy people and unhappy people. Happy people feel good about what they are doing,” he said, “or they change it.”

From “LSUHSC Chancellor Dr. John C. McDonald: Still on his Feet Attending to the Health and Well-being of Medical Center” in the Shreveport Times December 16, 2001

 
 
On health care in Louisiana…
 
“I want to state here that in my opinion the most tragic aspect of the history of medicine in Louisiana has been the segregation of public and private care. For almost 200 years now it has been philosophically accepted in Louisiana that the poor get their care in one place and the affluent get their care in another. Further, that care has been qualitatively different, and that has been acceptable to the state’s power structure. I submit that this philosophy is unacceptable. It is akin to advocating separate but equal schools. Not only is it morally wrong, it does not work. It separates the teacher from the practitioner and the student from the best practice. The clinical investigator cannot supplement income. A young Mike DeBakey cannot stay in the hospital system because he has neither the resources to expand his expertise nor an appropriate income in today’s world. I do not know of a single world-class medical center that does not have some access to private patients.”

From “The Shreveport Model” a lecture delivered to a task force charged with making recommendations for the improvement of medical care in Louisiana in November 2002

 
 
On education at LSUHSC-S…
 
“There are 125 classes gathering around the country about now. These classes are gathering at places like Johns Hopkins, Harvard, UCLA, Michigan, etc. are just like you. You are all starting even. They are no brighter. They are no better. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that others are somehow ten feet tall and that you are not supposed to be as capable as they, because they aren’t and you are. Further, your educational opportunities are just as good. Many other schools are older, many are bigger, but the opportunities to learn are not greater.”

From “Professionalism” a talk presented to freshmen medical students each year.

 
 
On the medical school experience…
 
Click here to access a video of the talk given to parents, spouses and other family members of the 2007 freshmen class during Family Day on October 27, 2007.
 
 
On the LSUHSC-S Medical School…
 
“I hope my short history lesson has not been too oriented towards bricks and mortar about an old hospital and a young medical school. The essence of a Health Science Center is not bricks and mortar, rather it is a living breathing organism. It is a place where dreams can and do become reality.”

Click here to access a video from “A Brief History of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center – Shreveport” (see also) at the 2001 LSUHSC-S Commencement Address on
June 2, 2001

 
 
On medical care at LUSHSC-S Hospital…
 
“The reason I think this institution [LSUHSC-S] is going to outshine all the rest in this state in the next couple of decades is because we are providing world-class care to everybody. We are giving day-to-day care to the poor and the rich, and we are bringing frontier care to everybody.”

“One of the things we have done in the last 25 years here is we have increased quality of care for everybody. And we have increased it to the point that now we may have a rich banker in this bed, and a poor, uneducated laborer in this bed and they are treated by the same people in the same environment, and there is no other place in this state where that happens.”

From an “Dr. John McDonald: LSUHSC Brings Frontier Care to Everybody” in the Shreveport Times December 29, 2002

 
 
On the personnel of LSUHSC-S…
 
“…I think that the faculty and staff of LSUHSC-S have been doing something right for the last 34 years. To organize, develop and lead a new institution into a position of rapidly rising national reputation in only three decades is an exceptional accomplishment.”

From an “LSUHSC Weathers Cuts” in the Shreveport Times July 13, 2003 

 
 
On his Southern heritage…
 
“I recognized that the Southern Surgical Association was one of the more respected of the learned surgical societies, and that the work presented at its meetings was comparable with that presented anywhere. It was a pleasure to read these works from the great Southern institutions, which seemed to have music in their names. This discovery was very important to me. At the time (that is, between 1958 and 1965), I had serious conflicts with my heritage. As a seventh-generation Mississippian residing in the Northeast, I found myself an apologist for the South during the great events of the civil rights movement. It became rather difficult to rationalize the Emmett Till lynching, the Philadelphia murders of the Freedom Riders, the Selma march, and the German shepherd police dogs of Bull Connor. At least every month, if not every week, some new atrocity was either blazed in the headlines or shown repeatedly on television. I felt shame and horror for all my brother southerners, both black and white. I could not fathom this state of terrorism. These did not seem to be the people I knew. There were years in the North during that time when a southern accent was thought to be synonymous with ignorance or racism. Many times during those years I thought of Quentin Compson. Many of you will recognize Quentin as the brother of Caddy, Benjy, and Jason – the Compson children in Faulkner’s great novel The Sound and the Fury. Quentin killed himself while a student at Harvard because he could not abide his family’s shame. I was never in such danger, but I was dangerously close to renouncing my history. For several years I planned never to return to the South. It was, in part, reading these papers and learning from and about those scholars that led me back to my homeland.”

From “In Search of the Holy Grail” (see also) the 1994 Presidential Address delivered to the Southern Surgical Association

 
 
On being a Southerner…
 
“To me being southern is a state of mind. It is not determined geographically, nor genetically. Although most Southerners reside in the South, many do not. In fact, many have never lived in the South, but they are nonetheless southern. Woodward in his classic book The Burden of Southern History suggested that southerners are different because they are the only citizens of this country who have experienced such terrible defeat, destruction, and prolonged poverty. That experience provided an insight that others seldom have. Southerners know that it is very difficult to discover what is truth, or what is useful, or what is good. They know that you can believe in something with all of your heart, that you can live your life according to a set of high moral standards – perhaps with an almost sacrificial code of behavior – and still be dead wrong. They know that you can devote your life and fortune to a cause and lose (and they frequently do). They know that no matter how firmly you believe something nor how much evidence you have collected to support your position, you may be wrong. They know these things from experience. No one else in this country knows this so clearly. Others commonly seem to believe that they can fight sand never lose – that if their intentions are good, the consequence of their behavior will be good. We know that this is not true. Southerners are perhaps more worldly, cynical, and suspicious, yet somehow more romantic, than other Americans. Many of us tend to be Jeremiahs; more of us are mavericks, less likely to rush to change. Perhaps because we are ambivalent over large or important issues, perhaps because we have no confidence in grand schemes and are suspicious of well-intended plans we tend to spend more time thinking on smaller matters of lesser consequence. We commonly become focused on simple things like civility, honor, devotion, courage, friendship, and integrity, which undoubtedly seem to many to be a waste of time."

From “In Search of the Holy Grail” (see also) the 1994 Presidential Address delivered to the Southern Surgical Association

 
 
On being a Mississippian…
 
“It is always a pleasure to be in Mississippi. There is a mystical kinship among Mississippians. It is something akin to an unspoken understanding and brotherhood. I wonder if it comes from a shared and unique history; perhaps from the nature of the land which has sustained us; perhaps it is from our gene pool. Nevertheless, it is real, and we all know it and feel it. I never visit Mississippi without feeling the comfort one feels among old friends and relatives.”

From “A Mississippian’s Journey into Organ Transplantation” (see also) a lecture delivered to the Wilk-Amite Medical Society at the Field Memorial Community Hospital in Centreville, Mississippi on April 8, 1993 

 
 
“I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as visiting professor in my home state. Some time in the late 1700s or very early 1800s a McDonald straggled into the virgin northeast Mississippi territory and started clearing land. He was my grandfather’s great grandfather. Thus, McDonalds have experienced the triumphs and tragedies of Mississippi for many years. It has been with great pride that I have observed the progress of the state at large and this fine Medical School [University of Mississippi Medical School] in particular in the past 20 to 30 years. I confess to twinges of guilt from time to time in not having my own shoulder to the wheel closer to home. Yet, my opportunities have been in our sister state of Louisiana where I have worked with similar circumstances for some 20 years.”

From “Politics of Transplantation” a lecture delivered as Visiting Professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center on February 2, 1989

 
 
On race…
 
“It is certainly unusual for a Louisiana surgeon to be invited to Michigan to comment upon issues related to race. I was so surprised by this invitation that I accepted without adequate reflection. Offensive to some, this subject is of necessity more philosophic than scientific. When such subjects are discussed the audience needs to be fully aware of the perspective of the speaker. Thus, I should inform you that my entire professional career, from medical student to professor, has been spent in universities associated with large public hospitals. Twenty-five of those 38 years have been spent in Louisiana. The population of Louisiana is about 4.5 million. Thirty-one percent of Louisianans consider themselves to be black. The median income of a Louisiana family of four is as low as $16,000 per year. The high school dropout rate is 40 percent and in 1980, 43 percent of the citizens older than 16 years had less than a high school education. The Louisiana State University Hospital’s patient population is 60 percent black and 90 percent poor. This is the milieu in which I work. Further, I am a seventh-generation Mississippian who learned as a teenager that to look at any human problem or endeavor in terms of race was nonproductive, generally led to erroneous conclusions, and commonly was a subterfuge for secondary agendas. Thus, I approach this subject with the point of view that: There are no issues in transplantation related to race. There are only issues that relate to human beings. If I may be allowed a personal statement: Those of us who have cared for large numbers of the poor commonly acquire a great respect for the almost noble way many face severe or chronic illnesses. Many times these people approach self-sacrifice in order to protect or provide for their families or dependents. We need to place less effort in considering whether or not a person is Black, Scot, Mexican, Arabic, Etc. and more effort in providing good education and access to economic independence to the underprivileged in our society. Thus, I end as I started. There are no transplantation issues related to race. There are only transplantation issues related to human beings.”

From “Issues Related to Race in Transplantation” a lecture delivered at the Conference on Patient Selection Criteria in Organ Transplantation: The Critical Questions, held in Dearborn, Michigan on March 14, 1989

 
 

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