Jon van Heerden, M.D. Gift Supports Residents

Jon van Heerden MD

Jon van Heerden, M.D. is an internationally known endocrine surgeon, educator and researcher. He retired in 2004 from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, where he was on faculty for nearly 40 years. During his tenure at Mayo, he trained hundreds of residents in both endocrine and general surgery. Known for his meticulous and compassionate patient care, the Mayo Clinic recognized his contributions to both resident education and surgical excellence with the creation of the Jon A. van Heerden Award, presented annually to an outstanding clinical resident in general surgery who renders the most meticulous patient care.

In 2004, the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons honored Dr. van Heerden for his contributions to academic medicine with the prestigious Oliver Cope Meritorious Achievement Award, a lifetime achievement award. Only ten such awards have been given in the past forty years.

His legendary reputation followed him when he retired to South Carolina in 2004. Within a few days of settling into his new home on Seabrook Island, Dr. van Heerden was invited to dinner by Fred Crawford, M.D., who was the chairman of the Department of Surgery. In attendance were David J. Cole, M.D. and David B. Adams, M.D. At the dinner, Dr. Crawford asked Dr. van Heerden to join the MUSC Department of Surgery to teach endocrine surgery to residents. He gladly joined on and eventually became the vice chair of Education.

“When Dr. Cole became chairman of the department, he created a vice chair of Education position and asked me to lead the new division,” said Dr. van Heerden. “And, with the guidance of Dr. Cole, the Curtis P. Artz MUSC Surgical Society was revitalized, providing greater opportunities for our graduates to network and build camaraderie.” During his tenure, Dr. van Heerden, in conjunction with Thomas Brothers, M.D. was instrumental in establishing Surgery Research Recognition Day, and he served for ten years as associate director of the Postgraduate Course in Surgery, led by Dr. Adams. In recognition of Dr. van Heerden's contributions to academic surgery and the Postgraduate Course in Surgery, the van Heerden Lecture leads the three-day conference.

When Dr. van Heerden stepped down from the vice chair position, Dr. Cole asked him to continue to teach and mentor trainees. He currently serves as an adjunct professor, teaching medical students rotation on their surgery clerkship. “We are so fortunate to have Dr. van Heerden actively engaged in our educational programs,” said Prabhakar Baliga, M.D., current chair of the Department of Surgery. “His educational impact goes far beyond surgery in ensuring that the next generation has the appropriate life values of patient centeredness, faith, humility and gratitude. He has been my personal role model for the last two decades.”

For Dr. van Heerden, the offer to teach and mentor MUSC surgical learners made so many years ago at that fateful dinner has enriched his life in more ways than he could have imagined and inspires him to give back. His years of service to educating the next generation of surgeons at MUSC has provided him an opportunity to live a purposeful life in retirement.      

“I am deeply grateful to Drs. Crawford, Cole, Adams, and Baliga for their mentorship and friendship over the years,” said Dr. van Heerden. “These leaders in the department gave me the opportunity for mental stimulation and a sense of purpose.”

This year, Dr. van Heerden gave his largest gift ever – to any institution or organization – with the creation of The Jon van Heerden Fund for General Surgery Loupes.

“I’ve always had a giving nature,” he said. “I like to pay it forward and by establishing the fund for surgical loupes, it is a tangible way of paying it forward.” He sees the daily struggle many residents face today with financing their surgical education. “I like to invest in the next generation,” he adds. “After all,  they are us in a very short time and if I can lighten their burden along the way, then I am happy to do so.”