Generations in vascular surgery: Kevin J. Geary ’83M (MD), ’88M (Res), ’90M (Flw)

Generations in vascular surgery: Kevin J. Geary ’83M (MD), ’88M (Res), ’90M (Flw)

One family’s tradition and a Rochester legacy

Kevin J. Geary poses with his nephew, Michael Geary, and his father, Joseph Geary, at Michael’s graduation from SMD.

A family legacy continues at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry (SMD). From left: Kevin J. Geary ’83M (MD), ’88M (Res), ’90M (Flw) poses with his nephew, Michael Geary ’16M (MD), and his father, Joseph Geary, at Michael’s graduation from SMD.

Deciding to pursue vascular surgery was like entering the family business for Kevin J. Geary, MD, whose father was part of a noteworthy line of surgeons who established the field in Rochester, NY. Joseph E. Geary, MD, was urged to come to Rochester by Charles Rob, MD, to practice as one of the first fellowship trained physicians in the city. Geary describes how, “back then, in 1960, there were only a couple of vascular surgery fellowship programs in the country. Dr. Rob, of course, had become a renowned pioneer in the field, after his team performed the first carotid endarterectomy in England. Rob then came to the United States to become chief of surgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC).”

The oldest of six children, Kevin Geary was a young child when his family moved to Rochester and remembers his father making rounds at the old Park Avenue Hospital, and all of the local community hospitals, to do surgeries. When he was eight or nine years old, Geary would go along with his father on these rounds.

Geary always planned to follow his father’s footsteps as a physician. His mother was a nurse, so it felt very natural to go into the medical field, but his father encouraged him to study other subjects on the side. Growing up, the family worked on many creative projects together. Once they built a 45-ft African mahogany schooner. “It took seven years, through high school and college, and my dad taught me and my siblings all about woodworking,” Geary recalls.

Geary went to Union College and became a language major, studying abroad in France and Germany. When it was time to take the MCAT, he showed up much to the surprise of all the pre-med students who had never seen him before in their classes.

The University of Rochester was looking for well-rounded medical students, so it was a good fit. Geary remembers the rigorous curriculum, how much emphasis there was on the biopsychosocial approach, and how he and his peers joked a bit about it, until they met George Engel, MD, and John Romano, MD, and then understood—without a doubt—how significant that model was. Looking back, Geary says, “I enjoyed the camaraderie among my classmates, and the closeness that still remained when we recently celebrated our 40th medical school reunion.” In those years, the medical students often socialized with nursing students. That was how Geary met his wife, Holly Simpson ’83N, ’09N (MS). In spite of the demands of his training, he shares, “those were fun and hilarious times.”

Geary changed his mind repeatedly about what direction he wanted to take in medicine and recalls how supportive his advisors were. He started out with an intention to pursue ophthalmology, with James Aquavella, MD, as his mentor, but ultimately, he was drawn into surgery. When his fellow anatomy partners heard about his plans, it came as no surprise to them. From day one, working side-by-side on a cadaver, they knew he was going to be a surgeon.

After looking at residencies all over, Geary ultimately matched at University of Rochester and started his internship in 1983. “In those days,” Geary says, “residents worked about 100 hours each week, before there were limitations on the schedules. My peers and I emerged from our surgery training, ready to set up shop on our own.”

Geary intended to go into plastic surgery. “There was a laboratory, a little room with a microscope,” he recalls, “where the plastic surgery residents learned how to do vascular surgery by practicing on parts of chickens and rat femoral arteries.” Later this became a true lab rotation. That’s when he started putting together little blood vessels, and by the end of residency he knew he was meant to go into vascular surgery instead.

At the time, all the vascular surgery fellows rotated with Geary’s father. By the third year, Geary remembers that’s when the fun really began, “When we worked together in surgery,” he says, “I would make a suggestion, ‘Dad, let’s do it this way,’ and the nurses would laugh. They had never heard anyone talk back to my father before. To me it wasn’t talking back. It was just as natural as suggesting another type of tool to use in our woodworking project.”

In addition to his father, Geary had many mentors who made an impression throughout his training. “You can get great experience from a lot of great surgeons,” Geary says, “if you take away little bits to make a whole. The more mentors you have, the better.” James DeWeese, MD—the former chair of vascular surgery who helped build the division—was one who stood out to Geary and who helped convince him to go into the field. Another was James Adams, MD. Geary remembers that an article came out at the time calling his father “the man with the golden hands,” and “Dr. Adams joked that if my father was the hand, then I must at least be one of the fingers.” From then on, Adams called him “golden thumb” or “thumb” for short.

After completing his education, Geary joined his father in practice at Vascular Surgery Associates. He is affiliated with Rochester Regional Health and also sees a lot of potential for collaboration with the University of Rochester. “All my partners trained at Strong,” he says. “The connection goes all the way around.”

In honor of James DeWeese, Geary has supported the DeWeese Endowment. Thinking about what motivates him to contribute toward vascular surgery education at Rochester, Geary says, “the legacy of vascular surgery at the University of Rochester is huge, and I’d like to see it remain that way.”

Join us

Alumni of the School of Medicine and Dentistry can support our mission to improve health through caring, discovery, teaching, and learning. Consider making a gift to support students and trainees today. Contact to learn more.

—Kristina Beaudett, Winter 2024