Emory Healthcare Honors one of the Pioneers of Cardiology, J. Willis Hurst, MD

Dr. J. Willis HurstDr. J Willis Hurst passed away Saturday, October 1, 2011 at 90 years old.  Dr. Hurst meant so much to Emory as a world-renowned cardiologist but also as a beloved teacher and  mentor to many physicians and staff. An outstanding teacher and writer, Dr. Hurst was also an internationally recognized clinician, having served as personal cardiologist to former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as other government leaders.

Dr. Hurst graduated from the University of Georgia in 1941. He then graduated from the Medical College of Georgia, where he was first in his class, in 1944. He was an intern and first year resident under V. P. Syndenstricker, the well known Chief of Medicine at the University Hospital in Augusta, Georgia, from 1944 to 1946.  He entered the Army and served at Fitzsimmons General Hospital in Denver.  He then became a Cardiology fellow with Dr. Paul White, the father of American academic cardiology, at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

He joined the Emory faculty in 1950.  In 1954 Dr. Hurst  was recalled into the armed services and was assigned to the United States Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, where he became Chief of Cardiology. He was discharged in 1955 with the rank of Commander. While serving at the naval hospital he was responsible for the care of many senators and congressmen. Among them was Lyndon Baines Johnson. They became friends and Dr. Hurst became his cardiologist for the next 18 years, including through his presidency and afterward.

Dr. Hurst returned to Emory in 1955 and was appointed Professor and Chairman of the Department of Medicine in 1957 at the age of 36. He remained in that position for 30 years. In the early 1960s, he established Emory’s continuing medical education program in cardiology, which secured the school’s reputation in teaching, attracting cardiologists from around the world to learn how to do procedures being pioneered and perfected at Emory. Dr. Hurst also was a founding architect of The Emory Clinic.

Throughout his 55-year career at Emory’s medical school, he taught more than 5,000 medical students and 2,500 residents and fellows — roughly a fifth of all doctors currently practicing in Georgia. He received the highest teaching awards from the American College of Cardiologists and the American College of Physicians. At Emory he was a past recipient of the Crystal Apple teaching award, and in 2003, the residency training program in medicine was named in his honor.

Dr. Hurst authored or edited almost 400 scientific articles and over 60 books. The most famous of his scholarly writings is The Heart, which is the most widely used cardiology textbook in the world, first published in 1966 and translated into more than five languages.  He believed deeply in the power of good teaching, and worked to have a long term and positive influence on students, house officers, and fellows. He also wrote two novels with his son and one book for children with his grandson, Stuart Hurst, who recently graduated from Emory’s School of Medicine and is now a resident at Emory University Hospital.

Dr. Hurst received many awards and honors throughout his distinguished career. He was president of the American Heart Association, Chairman of the Subspecialty Board of Cardiology, served on the Advisory Council of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and was President of the Association of Professors of Medicine.

We thank Dr. Hurst for all he has done for Emory  and the medical community. He will be missed by all.

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  • Mayank

    THE HEART would live forever to guide us.

  • Marcy

    He was a kind, wonderful, caring man. I remember him going from department to department in the 80s and early 90s, seeking out galley proofs from other physicians for his latest book. He will truly be missed.

  • Shirley M.

    Dr. Hurst was an amazing, caring, brilliant human being. He diagnosed my heart/lung problem in 1989 which lead me to my successful lung transplant. I will be forever grateful to him and will miss him greatly. He will live forever in the hearts of everyone who knew him.

  • Lisa Haney

    Dr. Hurst was so amazing. I had the priviledge of interacting with Dr Hurst during the 18 years I worked in Bldg A/TEC. I recall a gentle man with a warm and caring smile – a man patients adored and colleagues admired. I am so honored to have known him. What a difference this gentle spirit made in the world of Medicine and so many lives.