Alfred Blalock, MD


Alfred Blalock arrives at Vanderbilt 1925

Alfred Blalock: Assistant Professor on Rounds

Alfred Blalock: 1935

Alfred Blalock was born in Culloden, Georgia on April 5, 1899. He graduated with an AB degree in 1918 and entered Johns Hopkins Medical School where he was awarded the M.D. in 1922. Blalock spent the next two and a half years at Hopkins, completing an Internship in Urology, and then an Assistant Residency on the General Surgical Service, followed by a Fellowship in Otolaryngology. During the summer of 1925, he moved to Boston to begin a Residency at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. However, he never unpacked his bags. Instead, he accepted the position of Resident Surgeon in the program of the newly constructed Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville, joining his good friend and fellow Southerner, Tinsley Harrison, who was Vanderbilt's first Chief Resident on the Medical Service. Alfred Blalock arrived in Nashville, TN on September 17, 1925 to work with Barney Brooks, Professor of Surgery and Chief of the Surgical Service.

At Vanderbilt, Blalock was active in teaching the 3rd and 4th year medical students and was placed in charge of the surgical research laboratory. Blalock's laboratory experiments at Vanderbilt proved that "surgical shock was due to loss of effective circulating blood volume" and formed the basis for the beneficial and extensive use of blood and plasma in the care of wounded men in W.W. II.* Another of his research interests was pulmonary hypertension. Using dogs, he devised an operation in which the subclavian artery was anastomosed to the pulmonary artery. "This failed to produce pulmonary hypertion, but was the procdedure used many years at Johns Hopkins in the original blue baby operation."*

Blalock's very productive years at Vanderbilt were marred by recurring bouts with tuberculosis. He took the "cure" at the Trudeau Clinic, remaining there for a year. He then went to Europe as a travelling Fellow, visiting many well-known surgical clinics and surgical research laboratories. His tuberculosis recurred and he received treatment in Berlin and at Cambridge. Blalock returned to Vanderbilt and kept up a heavy schedule of teaching, operating, research, and writing. By the time he was 40 years of age the number of his publications exceeded 100 and he had published his monograph entitled Principles of Surgical Care: Shock and Other Problems. Blalock's experimental work during the decade of the 1930's was "enormously facilitated by the expertise of Vivien Thomas, a high school graduate, who begun to work in laboratory as Dr. Blalock's technician."* Vivien Thomas will be featured in the February edition of the Photographic Archive.

*Scott, H. William. History of Surgery at Vanderbilt University. History of Surgery at Vanderbilt University. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, 1996. pp. 52-58

Dr. Alfred Blalock speaking at meeting on Nashville Surgeons Club