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Robert S. D. Higgins, M.D.

Robert Samuel Decosta Higgins, M.D.

Headshot of Robert S. D. Higgins
  • Director of the Department of Surgery, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
  • Professor of Surgery


Cardiac Surgery, Cardiac Transplant, Cardiothoracic Surgery, Heart Bypass, Heart Transplant, Heart-Lung Transplant, Lung Transplant, Mechanical Circulatory Support, Minimally Invasive Cardiac Surgery, Minimally Invasive Thoracic Surgery, Thoracic Surgery more

Research Interests

The mechanism of cell injury in failing hearts; health policy; health economics; racial disparities in post-transplant outcomes; access to care; improving outcomes among heart failure and cardiac surgery patients more


Dr. Robert Higgins is the surgeon-in-chief of The Johns Hopkins Hospital. He is a leading authority in heart and lung transplantation, minimally invasive cardiac surgery, and mechanical circulatory support. His scientific interests are broad and far-ranging, including the mechanisms of cell injury in failing hearts, health economics and policy, racial disparities in post-transplant outcomes, access to care and improving outcomes among heart failure and cardiac surgery patients. Dr. Higgins is also the William Stewart Halsted Professor of Surgery and director of the Department of Surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dr. Higgins came to Johns Hopkins from The Ohio State University, where he was professor and chairman of the Department of Surgery, as well as surgeon-in-chief and director of the Comprehensive Transplant Center at Wexner Medical Center. Prior to that he began his surgical career as the director of heart and lung transplantation at the Henry Ford Hospital. Under his leadership, the transplant team performed the first lung transplant in Southeast Michigan and he went on to create a Medicare approved lung transplant program in 1997 and a pediatric heart transplant program in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Since then, he has served in numerous leadership positions, including chief of cardiac surgery at The Ross Heart Hospital in Columbus, Ohio; chairman of cardiovascular-thoracic surgery at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago; and chairman of cardiothoracic surgery at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond.

Dr. Higgins obtained his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and went on to earn his medical degree from the Yale School of Medicine, followed by a master’s degree in health services administration at Virginia Commonwealth University. He completed a residency in general surgery and served as chief resident at the University Hospitals of Pittsburgh. He was a Winchester Scholar and fellow in cardiothoracic surgery at the Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Higgins served as a senior registrar in transplantation at the renowned Papworth Hospital, the U.K.’s largest cardiothoracic surgical program and its main heart-lung transplant center. He also served as a Major in the United States Army Reserve Medical Corps.

Dr. Higgins has held leadership positions at various organizations, including president of the United Network for Organ Sharing, president of the Society of Black Academic Surgeons and president and founding member of the Association of Black Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeons. He has also been appointed to the Advisory Committee on Organ Transplantation by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. He has authored over 100 scientific articles and book chapters. more


  • Director of the Department of Surgery, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
  • William Stewart Halsted Professor of Surgery
  • Professor of Surgery

Departments / Divisions

Centers & Institutes



  • MD; Yale School of Medicine (1985)


  • General Surgery; University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (1990)


  • Papworth Hospital (1993)
  • Cardiothoracic Surgery; Yale-New Haven Hospital (1993)

Board Certifications

  • American Board of Surgery (Thoracic and Cardiac Surgery) (1995)

Research & Publications

Selected Publications

Kirkby S, Whitson BA, Wehr AM, Lehman AM, Higgins RS, Hayes D Jr. Survival benefit of induction immunosuppression in cystic fibrosis lung transplant recipients. J Cyst Fibros. 2014 Jun 16. pii: S1569-1993(14)00116-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jcf.2014.05.010. [Epub ahead of print]

Whitson BA, Lehman A, Wehr A, Hayes D Jr, Kirkby S, Pope-Harman A, Kilic A, Higgins RS. To induce or not to induce: a 21ST Century evaluation of lung transplant immunosuppression’s effect on survival. Clin Transplant 2014; Apr 28(4):450-61.

Jaik N, Higgins RSD, and Whitson BA. Simultaneous Procedures During Left Ventricular Assist Device Implantation: Is Less Always More? Current Heart Failure Reports. 2014 Mar;11(1):98-102.

Hannan EL, Zhong Y, Berger PB, Walford G, Curtis JP, Wu C, Venditti FJ, Higgins RS, Smith CR, Lahey SJ, King SB 3rd. “Comparison of intermediate-term outcomes of coronary artery bypass grafting versus drug-eluting stents for patients ≥75 years of age.” Am J Cardiol. 2014 Mar 1;113(5):803-8. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2013.11.035. Epub 2013 Dec 12.

Ricci KB, Higgins R, Daniels VC, Kilic A., Bovine Pericardial Reconstruction of the Diaphragm After a Heart Transplant., Exp Clin Transplant. 2014 Feb 25. doi: 10.6002/ect.2013.0068. [Epub ahead of print]

Higgins RS, Brown RN, Chang PP, Starling RC, Ewald GA, Tallaj JA, Kirklin JK, George JF. “A multi- institutional study of malignancies after heart transplantation and a comparison with the general United States population”.  J Heart Lung Transplant. 2014 Jan 28. pii: S1053-2498(14)00876-6. doi: 10.1016/j.healun.2014.01.862. [Epub ahead of print]

Higgins, Robert SD. "Truth and Consequences It's Not a Game Anymore." Journal of the American Medical Association/ Vol. 1, (Jan 2014): 1. (Published).

Hayes D Jr, Higgins RSD, Kirkby S, McCoy KS, Wehr AM, Lehman AM, Whitson BA. "Impact of Pulmonary Hypertension on Survival in Patients with Cystic Fibrosis Undergoing Lung Transplantation: An Analysis of the UNOS Registry." Journal of Cystic Fibrosis. Vol. 10, no. 13. (Dec 2013): S1569. (Published).

Spata T, Bobek D, Whitson B, Parthasarathy S, Mohler P, Higgins RSD, Kilic A. "A Non-Thoractomy Myocardial Infarction Model in an Ovine using Autologous Platelets." Animal Models of Human Pathology 2013. Vol. 2013, (Nov 2013): 7. (Published).

Higgins R., Kilic A, Sai-Sudakar CB, Crestanello J. Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting Using Cardiopulmonary Bypass, In Mastery of Cardiothoracic Surgery, 3e, Edited by Kaiser Larry R, Kron I, Spray Thomas L., publication date: November 18, 2013, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Activities & Honors


  • President, Society of Thoracic Surgeons, 2019
  • Distinguished Citizen Award, District 39 Educational Foundation, 2013
  • Commencement Speaker, Albany Academies, 2012
  • Distinguished Alumni, Albany Academies, 2012
  • Honoree, Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network, African-American Task, 2003
  • Benson Ford Chair in Transplantation, Henry Ford Hospital, 1998
  • Medical, Science & Technology Award, Variety, The Children’s Charity, 1998
  • Travel Award, American College of Cardiology/Bristol Laboratories Affiliate, 1993
  • Glen Ferraiolo Award for Excellence in Cardiothoracic Research, 1993
  • Upjohn Achievement Award, Yale University School of Medicine, 1985
  • Cum Laude, Yale University School of Medicine, 1985
  • Fellow, The Institute of Medicine of Chicago, 2005
  • President, United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), 2008
  • President, Society of Black Academic Surgeons, 2008
  • Fellow, The Institute of Medicine of Chicago, 2005
  • President, Association of Black Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeons, 2002
  • Fellow, American College of Cardiology, 1992
  • Fellow, American College of Surgeons, 1986


  • American Surgical Association
  • United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS)
  • Society of Black Academic Surgeons
  • Society of University Surgeons
  • American Association for Thoracic Surgery
  • American Society of Transplant Surgeons
  • Association of Black Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeons - Founding Member
  • American Medical Association
  • Michigan Society of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeons
  • International Society of Heart and Lung Transplantation
  • Association for Academic Surgery
  • Student National Medical Association
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