Interview with John S. Najarian

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Interview with John S. Najarian

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University of Minnesota


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Dr. John Najarian begins part one of his interview with a reflection on where he was born and raised and how he became interested in medicine. He then discusses his time in the U.S. Air Force, his interest in transplantation, the research he conducted under the mentorship of Frank Dixon and Joe Feldman, his decision to return to surgical work, his time at UCSF, and his move to the University of Minnesota. Dr. Najarian then reviews his time at the University of Minnesota, covering all of the following topics: his efforts to increase the number of surgical patients and work with surgeons in the community; relations with administrators at University Hospital; the continued training of academic surgeons; relations between different departments within the Medical School; cultural differences across the United States; the organ transplantation program at the University; ethical issues in transplantation; Robert Good’s work on bone marrow transplantation; transsexual surgery at the University; the faculty practice plan and income in the Medical School; the impact of Medicare and Medicaid; the health manpower shortage and problems with manpower distribution; and efforts to recruit minority and female surgeons. Dr. Najarian begins part two of his interview by reviewing collaborations with different schools and departments across the University and the differences between the University of Minnesota and the University of California-San Francisco. He comments on his experiences as the College of Medical Sciences reorganized as the Academic Health Center and relations with the state legislature. Dr. Najarian then discusses the following topics: changes to the hospital’s Board of Governors; space and staffing issues; the expansion of the hospital in the late 1970s and 1980s; and the sale of University Hospital to Fairview. Dr. Najarian spends a considerable portion of the interview reflecting on the development of Minnesota antilymphocyte globulin (ALG) and the legal problems he faced with the FDA and the University surrounding its sale. In the remainder of the interview, Dr. Najarian discusses the following topics: the leadership of Lyle French and Neal Vanselow; the impact of the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984; transplants conducted in pediatric patients and Jamie Fisk’s successful liver transplant at eleven months old; and changes in surgical technologies. He concludes his interview with reflections on the legacy of Dr. Owen Wangensteen and other figures important to the history of the AHC.


Dr. John Najarian was born and raised in Oakland, CA. After completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of California-Berkeley in 1948, he attended medical school at the University of California-San Francisco. He graduated from medical school in 1952, completed his surgical internship in 1953, and then served as division surgeon in the U.S. Air Force in Albuquerque, NM. Following the completion of his military service in 1955, Dr. Najarian returned to the UCSF medical school as a surgical resident. In 1960, he pursued his growing interest in transplantation as a special research fellow in immunopathology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School, where he worked with Frank Dixon. Dr. Najarian followed Dr. Dixon to Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla, CA as a senior fellow in tissue transplantation immunology. Interested in further pursuing his surgical career, Dr. Najarian returned to the UCSF medical school in 1963 as an assistant professor of surgery, director of the Surgical Research Laboratories, and chief of the Transplantation Service. Dr. Najarian then moved to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where he became a professor and chairman of the Department of Surgery in 1967. He developed an internationally recognized transplant program at the University, which performed many of the early and more complicated pancreas, liver, and kidney transplants, and supported the training of many important figures in organ transplantation. As part of his transplant work, Dr. Najarian also developed Minnesota antilymphocyte globulin (ALG) to decrease chances of organ rejection. In 1993, Dr. Najarian resigned as chairman due to federal and university investigations into the sale of ALG. Dr. Najarian was ultimately exonerated of all charges and continues to serve in the Department of Surgery. In 2007, the University created an endowed chair in Dr. Najarian’s name to support research in organ transplantation.

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Tobbell, Dominique A.; Najarian, John S.. (2011). Interview with John S. Najarian. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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