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By Jessica Chia and
You could say he never really left.
Dr. Bill Neilson, a 1976 graduate of Baylor, is also a senior lecturer and clinical professor of decision science in the Honors College. Neilson, who graduated with a degree in chemistry, is a surgeon and longtime health professional with an interest in medical missions.
“He has a deep wisdom about how Christians ought to think about medicine and how doctors ought to think about patients,” said Dr. Thomas Hibbs, dean of the Honors College. “He will help us all as we mentor students who are going into the pre-health field.”
Neilson said he was drawn back to campus by Baylor’s unique mission.
“The concept of integration of faith and learning, I probably wouldn’t have come here if it wasn’t for that. I liked the Vision of Baylor 2012. I liked Pro Futuris,” Neilson said.
Neilson met his wife, Carol, at Baylor, and is part of a legacy that stretches back for generations and that continued when his own children graduated from Baylor.
“Every Neilson since the Civil War who has gone to college has gone here,” Neilson said.
As an incoming freshman, Neilson was recruited by Baylor’s football program, but an injury prevented him from playing.
He got involved on campus in other ways, serving as a member of Student Congress and student body president.
Neilson also joined the Christian Maturity Council and the fraternity Phi Delta Theta, where he served as float chairman. Neilson attended the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, where he originally focused on pathology before turning to surgery.
“It took one day of being on the surgery rotation to decide that’s what I really wanted to do,” Neilson said. “I had to frantically interview for surgery residency programs.”
Neilson performed general surgery at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, at times working between 100 and 120 hours a week.
“I would go weeks without ever seeing daylight,” he said of his time as a resident.
After completing his residency in 1985, Neilson practiced surgery in Ennis, Tx. before he joined the AmarilloSurgical Group in 1990.
“We never asked people if they could pay their bills or not. If they needed surgery, we just took care of it,” Neilson said.
In 2010, Neilson completed his Master of Science in health care management at the University of Texas in Dallas and became the managing partner and president at the Amarillo Surgical Group.
While there, he taught and evaluated medical students through his posts as surgery faculty for Texas Tech’s Amarillo campus and the residency program site director for students from Parkland completing their residencies in Amarillo.
Neilson’s passion for surgery is rooted in his love of interacting with patients.
“It’s a very intense relationship. During that very brief period of time, you have to develop a relationship that’s intense enough and honest enough that they’ll trust you with their life,” Neilson said.
Neilson said practicing medicine isn’t for everyone, although he has enjoyed his career in surgery and health care.
“The bottom line is, if you don’t love medicine and you don’t love the real social interactions with people it’s a terrible, terrible thing to do with your life,” Neilson said.
Despite the number of positions Neilson has filled over the course of his career, he is committed to establishing himself once again in the Baylor community.
“My plan is to be here for the duration,” Neilson said. “In my medical career I’ve accomplished all the things I wanted to accomplish. I want to do what will be of value to the honors program and I intend to do whatever it takes to do it well. When you’re doing 750 operations a year, some of them are minor and some of them are big deals, but if you have the opportunity to influence 100 students a year that’s a really big deal.”
Dr. Andrew Wisely, director of the Honors Program, said Neilson’s connections and experiences as a high-level hospital administrator and a surgeon in high-pressure situations make him an asset to the Honors Program faculty.
“He’s a good listener, highly intelligent and is really interested in students. And he’s no stranger to Baylor,” Wisely said.