For someone who never expected to pursue teaching, general and vascular surgeon Joe Meyer ’74 has devoted a significant portion of his career to it—37 out of the 43 years he’s served in the profession.
His longtime work has included 25 years as the program director for Dartmouth’s surgical residents at Concord Hospital—an accomplishment for which he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the department of surgery, honoring a career aimed at helping other medical professional learn and make a difference.
“Helping instruct young people who want to be surgeons has given me a lot of professional satisfaction,” says Meyer, who serves as adjunct professor of surgery at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. “There hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that I haven’t been grateful for what I do.”
An Unexpected Start
Meyer, a southside Chicago native, attended Loyola Medical School with the intent of becoming a surgeon. While he accomplished this goal, his career advanced in another area as well. Following his residency and a fellowship at the University of Ottawa, Meyer ended up on the faculty at the University of Illinois.
The decision to teach stemmed from two simple realizations: “I discovered I really liked it,” Meyer says, “and I discovered I was pretty good at it too, so it worked out well for me.”
He served as a faculty member for more than seven years at the University of Illinois, where he had previously spent time as a surgical resident. Eventually, he and his wife, Suzanne, decided they wanted to raise their family in a smaller place, so they moved to central New Hampshire, where he accepted a position as a surgeon at Concord Hospital.
Meyer discovered that Concord had recently started a program for surgical residents through the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and because he had previous teaching experience, he was given the opportunity to instruct residents in the operating room. With that, his teaching career unexpectedly continued.
A Knack for Teaching
Three years later, the dean of Dartmouth approached Meyer and offered him the position of program director for surgical training at Concord Hospital, further affirming his teaching prowess. His position involved structuring the residents’ schedules and helping them choose assignments for the operating room, in addition to lecturing at both the hospital and Dartmouth.
While he was program director, Meyer had residents scrub with him on nearly all the operations he performed. He recognized that the residents’ observations and direct help in the operations was crucial to their education and overall experience in the operating room.
Finding Joy in His Work
Now, having stepped down as program director, Meyer continues to serve as an instructor to residents. There are no more evaluations, emails, or meetings—just teaching in the operating room and lecturing, which he much prefers.
Splitting his time between the office and the operating room, Meyer still works five days a week. When he’s operating, he’s at the hospital from about 6:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The days may be long, but Meyer says he feels lucky for how his career has unfolded—he appreciates the hospital he’s worked at for 28 years, as well as the residents he’s gotten to instruct year after year.
“I’m almost 68,” Meyer says, “and I have no desire to quit, just because it’s still a lot of fun.”
Meyer still draws inspiration from his Notre Dame roots. He keeps a “Play Like a Champion Today” placard in his hospital locker, a memento that’s become a meaningful part of his everyday routine.
“I open my locker, I put on my scrubs, and I touch the placard,” Meyer says. “Then I go in and do my best.”