W. Gerald Austen ‘51 has reached the highest level in every endeavor he’s undertaken–except golf. But to be fair, he didn’t start playing until he was 65 years old.
Austen began making his name in medicine in the early 1960s, when he developed a world-class surgical program at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston. He had trained in general surgery and cardiothoracic surgery at MGH, in Britain, and at the National Heart Institute in Bethesda, MD. In 1966, Austen became a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, at the unusually young age of 36. Three years later, he was appointed chief of surgical services at MGH, a post he held for 29 years.
“I was lucky to come along when heart surgery was in its infancy,” Austen says. “Everything we did was new, and the work brought me immense joy.”
Austen has also contributed to his profession outside the operating room. He’s served as president of the American Heart Association and the American College of Surgeons. In 1994, he was a founding trustee of Partners HealthCare System, the successful merger of MGH with Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He was also the founding president and CEO of the Massachusetts General Physicians Organization, which now employs more than 1,500 MGH doctors. Despite many improvements in health care over the years, he still sees a need for change.
“The quality of health care in the U.S. is extremely high, but we still need to further improve quality and safety and get everybody insured,” he says.
Austen considers his family life tops on his list of fulfilling experiences. He and his wife of 46 years, Patricia, moved from Weston, MA, to Boston’s Back Bay seven years ago and enjoy visiting their four grown children and seven young grandchildren. MIT has also been among Austen’s passions since he arrived at the Institute from Akron, OH, in 1947. He served on MIT’s Corporation for 33 years and is now a life member emeritus.
Austen maintains a full-time work schedule as the Churchill Professor of Surgery at Harvard. He also advises senior management at both MGH and Partners and serves on a number of boards. And in his spare time, he plays golf regularly. “I’ll never be a good golfer,” he says, “but I enjoy it.”