Building a solid foundation

George Wu, MD’71

Long before George Wu, MD’71, came to the University of Chicago, the University of Chicago came to his father.

As a medical student at Peking Union Medical College, Wu’s father was trained by UChicago physicians through a Rockefeller Foundation program. “My dad was always grateful for the UChicago physicians,” says Wu, “whom he encountered during those World War II years.”

His father, trained as a surgeon, came to Columbia University Medical Center to learn anesthesia, which he planned to teach at a hospital in Shanghai, where he was a staff surgeon. But due to the Communist takeover in China, he chose to remain in the United States and entered a private anesthesia practice in Chicago in 1948. His wife and three children joined him two years after he moved to Chicago. (The family’s fourth child, Louis Wu, MD’77, was born in Chicago.) Wu was five years old at the time.

Following in his father’s footsteps, after graduating Carleton College, Wu chose to attend medical school and become a surgeon. He came to the University of Chicago in part due to its strong emphasis on full-time academic physician faculty and their mentorship. He met one of his mentors, plastic surgeon Harvey Zarem, MD, when Zarem taught a lecture on the anatomy of the hand. “I remember that so well,” Wu says. “I loved it.”

He did a plastic surgery rotation with Zarem and saw the wide variety of work plastic surgeons do—hand surgery, reconstructive surgery, cosmetic surgery. “Since I liked working with my hands,” Wu says, “I thought plastic surgery was a wonderful field.”

Wu did his graduate medical education at Stanford University Hospital and Roosevelt Hospital in New York, working under people who helped develop the specialty of hand surgery. He then joined the Air Force, spending two years at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where he became chief of plastic surgery at the medical base. After declining an offer to become an Air Force colonel, Wu returned to San Francisco in 1981.

For almost three decades, Wu and his wife, Linda, ran a private plastic surgery practice in the Bay Area, focusing on hand surgery. They retired in 2011. “Our son and two grandkids live nearby,” he says. “We’re doing a lot of babysitting now.”

The Wus are also giving back to the University of Chicago, in part to honor the mentors who helped him throughout his medical education—including former Dean of Students Joseph J. Ceithaml. “He helped me get through my medical education with a very reasonable debt load,” Wu says. “It helped my dad a lot too—he was sending four kids to college.”

The Wus chose to include the University of Chicago in their estate plans, hoping to ensure that future Pritzker students are given the same opportunities Wu had. “I would encourage alumni to consider the wonderful education that the University of Chicago imparted to them,” he says. “It gave me a foundation in practicing medicine for the rest of my life.”

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