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Dr. John Bergan: Pioneering Vascular Surgeon’s Culture of Knowledge Lives On

Drs. Yao and Bergan worked collaboratively and were instrumental in helping to build the Division of Vascular Surgery at Northwestern.

This story was published in the August 2020 issue of The Philanthropist, a newsletter for supporters and friends of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Read the whole issue here.

This March, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine’s Division of Vascular Surgery in the Department of Surgery celebrated the newly endowed John J. Bergan, MD Lectureship, named after the founder and first chief of the division. In 2013, the division established this notable annual event to honor the legacy of Dr. Bergan—widely considered a founding father of modern-day vascular surgery, a surgical subspecialty focused on managing diseases of the arteries and veins throughout the body.

“We felt it was important to recognize Dr. Bergan’s remarkable contributions to our specialty and exceptional commitment to Northwestern,” said Mark K. Eskandari, MD, ’01 GME, the James S. T. Yao, MD, PhD, Professor of Vascular Surgery and chief of Vascular Surgery. He and Dr. Yao, former division chief as well as former chair of Surgery, spearheaded the effort to endow the lectureship and made their own philanthropic commitments to make it possible. “Not only did Dr. Bergan help launch the division, but he also created the earliest vascular surgery fellowship in the nation and our annual Northwestern Vascular Symposium, now in its 45th year.”

In 1959, Dr. Bergan joined the medical school faculty after completing his general surgery residency at Chicago Wesley Memorial Hospital (now Northwestern Memorial). Five short years later, he would perform the first kidney transplant at Northwestern and help develop the emerging organ transplantation program. He recruited Dr. Yao to the medical school in 1972 and the two vascular surgeons became instrumental in building the division from the ground up. Nationally and internationally renowned, Dr. Bergan served as president of numerous professional societies, including the Society for Vascular Surgery. The pioneering surgeon left Northwestern and the Chicago area in 1988 to develop a practice in California caring for patients with venous disease. He passed away at the age of 87 in 2014.

Dr. Bergan’s children Betsy, Margaret, and John help celebrate his 80th birthday.

“Lectureships allow us to invite prominent experts to campus so our trainees and faculty can learn the latest innovations in the field,” said Dr. Yao, professor emeritus of Surgery in the Division of Vascular Surgery. “Naming a lectureship after Dr. Bergan was very appropriate. He was an excellent teacher and speaker who knew his subject matter well, and also knew when to tell a good joke.”

For Dr. Bergan, a lifelong learner, inspiring bright young minds to make a real difference in the field was the most rewarding aspect of his storied career. “Fortunately, Dr. Bergan was in attendance for the inaugural presentation in 2013 and had the opportunity to have dinner with family, our faculty, alumni, friends, and most importantly the new integrated residents and fellows in our program,” said Dr. Eskandari.

“Dad loved the ‘aha’ moments of teaching—that moment of total understanding that leads students to never forget a concept,” shared his daughter, Betsy Barrett.

Division of Vascular Surgery faculty members attend the annual Bergan Lecture.

Endowed lectureships provide funding in perpetuity for these unique learning opportunities and promote as a whole the educational mission of the medical school. Notably, the endowment of the Bergan Lectureship came almost entirely from gifts made by former and current faculty and alumni of the division’s training programs. Said Dr. Eskandari, “This generosity is a testament to the positive experiences of alumni who benefited from the culture of knowledge that Dr. Bergan established in the division.”

Also donors to the endowment fund, the Bergan family could not be more thrilled at the response to give back and pay forward all Dr. Bergan brought to Northwestern. “We are incredibly touched by the fund’s many contributors,” said daughter Margaret Davis. “From the moment I saw a film of dad in his 30s performing a historic vascular surgery operation, I knew he had a genius that would benefit the health of many patients worldwide. Now future faculty and trainees will have an opportunity to continue learning from the best in the field.”

For more information about supporting the Bergan Lectureship and the Division of Vascular Surgery, please contact David McCreery at 312-503-6099 or