Honoring Our Legacy of Surgical Leaders: Jacob Robison, M.D.

May 30, 2024
Dr Robison

Jacob Robison, M.D., is a Professor Emeritus at the Medical University of South Carolina.  An accomplished surgeon, outstanding innovator, and dedicated mentor to many of our trainees, Dr. Robison enjoyed a professional career that significantly shaped the Vascular Surgery Division at MUSC. The department was honored to have him share some “pearls of wisdom” during our annual awards ceremony lecture. 

“Surgeons by nature are leaders - not just in their institutions - but leaders in their families, neighborhoods, communities, and places of worship.  he said. “Honesty, integrity, fairness, and a concern for others become critical principles for any effective leader.” After quoting Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism in 500 B.C.E., and Booker T. Washington among others, he then said, “Each of you should apply these principles in your life journey.” He also emphasized the importance of tolerance and diversity, and the dangers of ignorance and intolerance that contribute to misery and suffering, adding, “And isn’t that what we are tasked with relieving?”

After paying homage to several of his own mentors, Robison further shared a short list of other inspirational advice: Character is everything. Leave the world a better place. Trust must be earned. Everybody needs respect. Show empathy – it is your noblest trait. Take care of yourself and support your peers; most of us will experience some personal crisis -- look after your peers and look after yourself and seek advice and support when needed. The only constant is change, but nothing changes for the better if good people remain silent in both word and deed. Develop a social consciousness and awareness. Pay it forward. Believe that people are basically good. And strive to be the best surgeon that you can be.

These principles are those Dr. Robison has strived to live by throughout his life. 

After finishing medical school at the University of Texas Health Science Center with a sponsorship from the United States Air Force, Dr. Robison finished his general surgery residency at Wilford Hall USAF Medical Center. 

Upon graduation, he was appointed a clinical and research fellow in vascular surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He returned to active duty at Wilford Hall as an attending physician until 1987, when he then joined the MUSC Department of Surgery, where he focused exclusively on vascular surgery. After being called briefly back to active duty for Desert Storm in 1991, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and retired from the Air Force as a Colonel.

Throughout his career, Dr. Robison has been an advocate of adapting new technologies to the assessment and management of vascular disease and using a careful assessment of both their outcomes and costs. Together with his associates in interventional radiology, he pioneered the management of aortic aneurysms with endovascular stent grafting in South Carolina in 1996. 

He helped perform the first fenestrated aortic graft involving physician modification to preserve renal blood flow during EVAR and lead his team to perform the first four-vessel fenestrated EVAR in South Carolina. Working together with Dr. Bruce Elliott and Dr. Thomas Brothers, with a vision to bring modern vascular surgery using endovascular techniques to MUSC, they built a nationally recognized Division of Vascular Surgery. 

Dr. Robison not only helped train an entire generation of general surgeons, but developed the first integrated vascular surgery residency training program in South Carolina and was its first program director. Although he served MUSC for years in various leadership positions, including two years as President of the Medical Staff, he is best remembered for his interest in student and resident surgical education. He was twice a winner of the Paul H. O’Brien, M.D., Resident Teaching Award and received multiple Golden Apple nominations. 

Dr. Robison was an early and strong advocate for gender and racial diversity in both the Department of Surgery and at MUSC, as well as for inter-specialty collaboration. He has been recognized by his peers with membership in many major surgical societies, including that of Distinguished Fellow in the Society for Vascular Surgery, as well as recognized as one of America’s Top Surgeons and Best Doctors throughout his career.