Colleagues remember a gifted surgeon and good friend

Dr. Hugh A. Walters

Dr. Hugh A. Walters

Colleagues and friends from the College of Medicine struggled this week to cope with the tragic loss of surgical resident Dr. Hugh A. Walters with fond memories and words of admiration for the 2004 UF medical graduate.

Walters, 28, was killed Saturday night, May 24 when the SUV he was driving hit a culvert and rolled over. The tragedy has hit the department of surgery hard as Walters, a former Florida A&M football player, was one of the department’s most liked and admired residents.

“He was a quiet and unassuming gentleman,” said Dr. Mike Chen, associate professor of pediatric surgery. “I remember offering him advice to be less humble during his interviews because he always downplayed his accomplishments. He had a huge heart and never placed himself first.”

The department has established an annual award to honor Dr. Walters’ character. The Hugh A. Walters, MD, Department of Surgery Humanism Award will be presented to the “surgical resident who embodies the qualities of compassionate care and selfless dedication to excellence,” said Dr. Kevin Behrns, UF’s chief of general surgery and director of the surgical residency program.

“Hugh was a perfect example of what perseverance and hard work can accomplish,” Chen said. “He came from Jamaica and played college football at Florida A&M for a year or two. He stopped because he needed more time for class work.”

Dr. Walters and his family moved from Jamaica to Florida shortly before he entered high school. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida A&M University before coming to UF for medical school. As a second-year medical student, Walters was accepted into the prestigious year-long Research Scholars Program sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Institutes of Health. In addition to his surgical residency, Walters also completed one year of training in critical care medicine.

Behrns said Walters’ lifelong ambition was to be a trauma surgeon in an academic setting, where he could continue to do research.

“He was setting himself up to succeed in just such a position,” Behrns said.

Dr. Donna Parker, assistant dean for minority affairs for the College of Medicine, met Walters during his third year at Florida A&M when he was accepted into the junior honors program. She also accompanied him on a medical mission trip to his home country.

“He was a very smart, humble and wonderful young man,” Parker said. “People who worked with him have commented to me how incredibly smart he was.

“He also had a great love for other people and took good care of others, whether they were his peers, his patients or students,” she said. “He had a quiet positive spirit.”

“Hugh was a caring physician in the finest tradition of our profession.” said Dr. Timothy Flynn, associate dean for graduate medical education and professor of vascular surgery.

The Department of Surgery will present a special service in tribute of Dr. Walters on Wednesday, June 4 at 4 p.m. in the Health Professions, Nursing, and Pharmacy Auditorium. This will be a campus-wide event, and the department welcomes family, friends and colleagues of Dr. Walters. There will be a reception immediately afterward in the lobby.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that gifts in honor of Dr. Walters be directed to the University of Florida, Department of Surgery, PO Box 100286, Gainesville, FL 32610 to establish the Dr. Hugh A. Walters Humanism Award. This will be used to support humanism in surgical education and an annual award to be given to a surgical resident who embodies Dr. Walters’ qualities of compassionate care and selfless dedication to excellence.

In addition, the Department of Surgery and the College of Medicine are preparing a collection of accolades for Dr. Walters to be presented to the family at the annual Chief Residents’ Dinner. Please send your contribution to the collection to Amy Music, PO Box 100192, Room M107, Gainesville, FL 32610.