In the vein of Hopkins' finestDate: November 1, 2011
A renowned vascular surgeon and former resident receives honor from the university.
Linda Reilly has become one of the nation’s leading surgeons specializing in complex aortic procedures. Considered the “go-to” specialist for complicated cases in her region and beyond, the professor of surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, has lectured internationally about her aortic reconstruction work and led clinical trials to refine devices and techniques in the repair of aortic aneurysms. She has directed the general surgery residency program at UCSF since 1998.
Yet she still remains modest about her work.
This spring, Reilly was one of 13 inductees to The Johns Hopkins University’s Society of Scholars, a group created in 1967 to recognize people who began their careers at Hopkins and rose to prominence in their fields through distinguished achievement. She is one of 564 members.
Sitting at the induction ceremony, she says, “I was quite surprised and even more amazed” while listening to her fellow inductees’ accomplishments. “It’s an amazing concept that Hopkins has, and quite nice.”
Reilly, who became interested in vascular surgery because of her older sister (now a vascular surgeon in private practice in Washington state), was the first woman to complete the surgery training program at Hopkins, including becoming chief resident in 1981. However, she almost cancelled her interview.
While finishing medical school at Georgetown and applying for residencies, Reilly interviewed at the University of Rochester a day before coming to Hopkins. Snowy weather delayed her flight, she didn’t make it home until 3 a.m., she was tired, and Hopkins’ reputation was tough. She pulled out the piece of paper listing the faculty she would be meeting and dialed the office to cancel her appointment. As the phone rang, she says, she realized it would be ignorant to cancel at the last minute. Just as someone answered the phone, she hung up.
Today she laughs about being “seconds away from not even applying.” She later discovered that a faculty member at Massachusetts General Hospital, who knew her from a subinternship, had called former surgery director George Zuidema on her behalf.
Though Reilly says she loved caring for patients and performing operations as a resident, she also remembers the challenges. If nurses or other hospital personnel didn’t want to transport a patient, for example, that became a responsibility for the resident. Interns had to figure out their roles while doing everything exactly as expected, she says.
When issues came up after hours, “there were any number of people I bribed to get me in file rooms, etc., so I would have the information I needed for the morning,” she recalls.
Once, while working on the burn unit, Reilly needed to put temporary skin grafts on a patient but discovered that the burn fellow had locked them in his office before leaving for the day.
“The only way to get in was to crawl out a window and along a ledge,” she says. The next day while doing rounds, “he never asked me how I got the materials, and I was not about to tell.”
From Hopkins, Reilly headed to UCSF for a fellowship in vascular surgery and stayed as a surgeon and faculty member. She has trained 36 vascular fellows since 1985, including numerous chiefs of vascular surgery across the country. And she has become a national leader in surgical education, serving as a recent president of the Association of Program Directors in Surgery and a chair of the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education’s Residency Review Committee for Surgery.
Hopkins Surgery Director Julie Freischlag met Reilly early in her career, when both were young faculty members in California and the only two female vascular surgeons active in the field’s professional societies. She says she nominated Reilly for the Society of Scholars because of her vascular surgery and leadership skills.
“She is an amazingly experienced vascular surgeon, and she helps the residents find their way in a very quiet manner,” Freischlag says. “It was very easy to recommend her for this honor.”