Dr. William Wood Retires from The Emory Clinic

September 2011

The most striking element of Dr. William Wood's recent morning retirement reception in the JB Whitehead Memorial Room of Emory University Hospital was the steady flow of former patients that came to pay their respects, all united in their enduring gratitude to the surgeon who had provided them with hope and comfort during difficult times. Gracious and smiling, Dr. Wood projected the sincere affection reserved for meeting old friends, the epitome of the gentleman surgeon.

"The magnet to a medical career is the opportunity to relieve suffering," says Dr. Wood. "Surgery provides opportunities to do that acutely, and the love that motivates intense focus, hard work, and long hours on behalf of your patients is more than rewarded by seeing God use your efforts to their relief and benefit."

However, absolute retirement appears to be an unrealistic and undesirable option for an acclaimed surgical oncologist who has spent an inordinate amount of time in the OR for the better part of 40 years, witnessed and participated in the evolutionary trajectories of such now-commonplace modalities as minimally invasive surgery and skin sparing mastectomy, secured a global reputation for outstanding contributions to cancer therapy and major influence on the design and meta-analysis of conceptually driven national clinical trials, and mentored literally hundreds of surgical residents.

During the past year Dr. Wood accepted appointments as a senior research fellow of the International Prevention Research Institute (iPRI) in Lyon, France, and a board-member of AfrOX in Oxford, the UK. The latter's mission is to partner with African countries to implement comprehensive cancer prevention and control programs, while iPRI is dedicated to the improvement of health in populations worldwide by identifying critical issues in disease determination and prevention.

"My wife said it doesn't sound like retirement to her," laughs Dr. Wood, "and that was before I told her that I would also be teaching African surgical trainees under the joint auspices of the Department of Surgery's Global Health Program, Emory’s Global Health Initiative, and the Hubert Department of Global Health of the Rollins School."

Admittedly, the momentum Dr. Wood has sustained throughout his career would be difficult to tame. A graduate of Harvard and MGH, he held a variety of faculty appointments at both — including Medical Director of the Cancer Center and Chief of Surgical Oncology — before coming to Emory in 1991 to serve as J. B. Whitehead Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery, a position he held until February 2009.

When Dr. Wood arrived at Emory, there were no NIH funded grants in the Department, but by the time he passed the chair to Dr. Chris Larsen in February 2009, the Department had risen to the 5th leading academic department of surgery in NIH funding nationwide. Dr. Wood was also instrumental in establishing the Emory Endosurgery Unit, one of the first programs of its type in the country to gradually legitimize and refine laparoscopic surgery and the first to sponsor a laparoscopic fellowship.

Off-campus, Dr. Wood was as productive and influential as he was at Emory. A sampling of his achievements includes chairing the Intergroup Committee of Cooperative Group Breast Cancer Chairs of the NCI from 1991-2008; co-chairing the Early Breast Cancer Trialists' Collaborative Group, Oxford, 1995-2011; sitting on the Board of Governors of the American College of Surgeons, 1998-2005; serving as Editor-in-Chief of Oncology, 1999-2009; being the North American editor of the 2nd edition of the Oxford Textbook of Surgery, published in 2000; receiving the 2005 James Ewing Award of the Society of Surgical Oncology and the 2007 Statesman Award of the American Society of Clinical Oncology; and serving presidential terms for the Society of Surgical Oncology, Southeastern Surgical Congress, Georgia Surgical Society, and the Atlanta Surgical Society.

After leaving the chairmanship, Dr. Wood remained at The Emory Clinic and re-intensified his focus on scholarly activities related to innovation in cancer treatment. While finally moving on from the clinic as well, his presence as an advisor, teacher, and investigator on the international stage will continue unabated.

"Emory provided the opportunity to advance the field of surgery in the company of a growing and splendid group of colleagues, singularly gifted trainees, and a committed and caring staff, all on behalf of wonderful patients, each of whom came with their very unique background and devoted family members," says Dr. Wood. "What great fun!"