Intended for healthcare professionals


Robert McClelland: surgeon who tried to help save both President John F Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 04 November 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6340
  1. Rebecca Wallersteiner
  1. London, UK
  1. wallersteiner{at}
Picture credit: University of Texas South-western Medical Centre, Dallas, USA

Robert McClelland was born in the small town of Gilmer in east Texas, to Robert, a butcher, and Verna (née Nelson), a government welfare officer. He was educated at a local high school—where he read prodigiously and developed a lifelong interest in history—followed by medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. He had been eager to be a doctor, like his grandfather whom he admired. After qualifying he served as a medical officer for the US Air Force in Germany, before joining the University of Texas South-western Medical faculty in 1962. At the age of 34, he was thrown into the historical spotlight forever.

President John F Kennedy

At around 12 30 pm on 22 November 1963, Robert McClelland was showing a film on how to repair a hiatus hernia to a group of surgery graduates at the Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas, when there was a loud knock on the door. McClelland was called away to the emergency department to deal with a “terrible” situation two floors down. He made his way down, grumbling on the way as he was often called out to deal with “terrible” injuries that turned out not to be that bad.

In this case, the US president, John F Kennedy, had been shot as his motorcade travelled through Dallas and had been brought to Parkland, …

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