Dr. John E. Connolly sits in a classroom surrounded by a group of earnest medical students. He's describing an imaginary patient’s symptoms.
“What’s the diagnosis?” he asks the group, urging the students to remember what they learned in anatomy class.
Most of their responses miss the mark.
But Connolly doesn’t dwell on the errors. He expertly moves on, engaging the group in discussion, gently leading the students toward correct answers, asking questions that will help them develop critical thinking skills.As the last original faculty member still practicing at UC Irvine School of Medicine, Connolly’s expertise in the classroom comes as second nature. He's been guiding students through such discussions for nearly half a century.
Connolly’s value to the institution isn't only his teaching ability: In 1965, he was named the founding chair of the school’s Department of Surgery and tasked with developing the department. He recruited all of the department’s original physicians and anesthesiologists, as well as the heads of seven divisions.
On June 27, Connolly celebrates a major career landmark: the installation of the John E. Connolly Endowed Chair in Surgery. The dinner and celebration, hosted by School of Medicine Dean Ralph V. Clayman, marks full funding of his endowed chair. (Dr. Michael Stamos currently occupies the Connolly Chair.)
“The naming of an endowed Chair in honor of Dr. John Connolly is so very appropriate given his significant contributions to vascular surgery and to our School of Medicine over the past 40-plus years,” says Dean Clayman.
“Nobody has had the opportunity to play an active role in the growth of our School of Medicine since its inception like Dr. Connolly. His dedication to his trainees and to our UC Irvine medical students is so very strong. Furthermore, on a personal level, his friendship and sage advice have been and continue to be invaluable to me.”
The school's senior physician and professor has no plans to cut back on his schedule.
“I’ll still be in the classroom full time, go on rounds and see patients in clinics,” he says. “If they need surgery, I hand them over to the younger guys. “
Connolly, a Harvard College and Medical School graduate, was inspired by his father to pursue a surgical career. His dad was a professor of surgery at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.
“He used to take me on rounds when I was seven or eight,” recalls Connolly. “He’d even take me to autopsies. My mother told him I’d never become a doctor if he kept on taking me to autopsies, but it didn’t turn me off.”
His career choice has taken him all over the world as a speaker and visiting professor; he still lectures internationally. His long and distinguished list of honors includes being named a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the Royal Colleges of Ireland and Edinburgh, Scotland, and an honorary member of the Japanese Surgical Society. He is also former regent of the American College of Surgeons and former president of the International Cardiovascular Society.
There was a time when Connolly worried that he’d have to retire at 70. “But then the government changed the retirement age and that saved me,” he says, smiling broadly.
“I really like what I do,” he says, smoothing down an edge of his perfectly pressed white coat. “I like the atmosphere. As long as they think I’m contributing, I want to keep doing exactly what I’m doing now.
“I’d get bored if I was off playing golf every day.”