Charles (Charlie) Nicholson was a prolific and widely respected general surgeon at the Lexington Clinic. He practiced at St. Joseph, Central Baptist and Good Samaritan Hospitals from 1964 until 1996, caring for patients and educating hundreds of surgical residents. Dr. Nicholson’s legacy is as a compassionate and caring physician, superb clinical and technical surgeon, dedicated teacher and colleague. After Charlie’s untimely death in 1999, members of the Lexington surgical community established the Nicholson Clinical Tour to honor and memorialize their long-time partner and friend. The Nicholson Clinical Tour is to be awarded to senior surgical residents so they may serve as visiting surgeons. Visiting and studying under experts in difference centers, cities, or parts of the world has a long tradition in surgery. The Nicholson Clinical Tour makes such tutelage possible for senior residents who have demonstrated strong character, broad knowledge, high technical skill and commitment to the profession, those characteristics that best describe Charles H. Nicholson.
Charles H. Nicholson was born in Harlan, Kentucky on February 28, 1931. He attended high school at the Kentucky Military Institute in Lynden, Kentucky and graduated at 16. He then attended Vanderbilt University, earning a BA and MD and graduated in 1955. He went to Strong Memorial Hospital at the University of Rochester in New York where he served as intern, resident and chief resident alongside fellow resident Seymour Schwartz. Like many young surgeons at that time, Dr. Nicholson served in the U.S. Military, being deployed to Wiesbaden Germany as a surgical consultant with the U.S. Air Force from 1960-1963. He received a Commendation Medal. He returned to Strong Memorial as Clinical Instructor of Surgery in 1963 before taking his fellowship in cardiac surgery at the University of Florida in 1964.
Dr. Nicholson returned to Kentucky to establish a practice in General and Thoracic Surgery at the Lexington Clinic in 1965. His scope of practice was very broad which was unusual in Lexington at the time, including esophageal, vascular, hepatic, endocrine and pediatric surgery and more common general surgical procedures. In addition to being a skilled clinical surgeon, Dr. Nicholson was an outstanding teacher. Dr. David Richardson, another iconic Kentucky surgeon said, “Charles Nicholson (and Richard Floyd, his clinic partner) probably had as much impact on my career as about anyone, in that they gave me a direction to follow in my clinical training and practice.”
Dr. Nicholson worked hard to serve the Lexington medical community and was a leader. He was Treasurer of the Central Kentucky Blood Center in 1980. He was Chief of Surgery at the Lexington Clinic, President of St. Joseph Hospital, President of the Lexington Surgical Society, and President of the Kentucky Chapter of the American College of Surgeons. He was a member of the Southern Surgical Association, one of surgery’s most prestigious societies. He was a surgeon scientist; he published during his early surgical career and he lectured locally and regionally, including at UK, during his practice in Lexington. Dr. Nicholson’s greatest passion was his family: his wife Jackie, a prominent Bluegrass philanthropist, and his children Beth, Greg and David. Charlie Nicholson retired from surgical practice in 1996.
- Functional Stenosis Due to Bronchial Angulation. Surgery 1959;38:90-92.
- Surgical Adjunct in the Treatment of Intestinal Atresia. Arch Surg 1964;88:234-5.
- Hyperparathyroidism in a Community Hospital. KMA Journal 1980.
- Use of CAT Scan in the Diagnosis of Adrenal Tumors. South Med Journal 1980.
- Surgical Treatment of Hypertension. Lexington Clinic Symposium, 1972.
- Hyperparathyroidism - An Increasing Surgical Problem. Kentucky Surgical Society. Lake Barkley State Park, 1974.
- Problems in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Ulcer. Lexington Clinic Symposium, 1973.
- The Surgeon in the Cardiac Care Unit. Kentucky Chapter, American College of Surgeons, Somerset, Kentucky, 1975.
- Surgical Decisions. University of Kentucky Grand Rounds, 1976.
- Post-gastrectomy Problems. University of Kentucky Grand Rounds, 1976.
- Traumatic Arteriovenous Fistula. University of Kentucky Grand Rounds, 1977.
- Congenital Esophageal Lesions. Visiting Pediatric Surgeons, Lexington, Kentucky.
- Pacemaker Problems. Visiting Texas Internists Society, Lexington, Kentucky.
- Who to Resuscitate and How. American Association of Medical Assistants, Louisville, Kentucky, 1978.
- Abdominal Emergencies. American Association of Medical Assistants, Louisville, Kentucky, 1978.
- Zenker’s Diverticulum. University of Kentucky Grand Rounds, 1978.
- Surgical Uses of the Omentum. Kentucky Surgical Society, 1979.
- Diagnosis and Treatment of Hyperparathyroidism. Pineville Community Hospital, September 1990.
- Controversies in Carotid Artery Surgery. Southern Medical Association, Grand Canyon, January 1994.
Quotes Describing Charlie Nicholson
Charlie was an avid fisherman and I went fishing with him on a vacation while I was a resident in Texas. He was a great surgeon, a good teacher and he had a good sense of humor. My most comical memory was when I had been on service a few days and went to the left side of the table to assist on a cholecystectomy. I was told to move to the right side and was surprised that I might get to do the procedure as a third day intern. Charlie then took the knife and made a left upper quadrant incision and took out the gallbladder. The patient had situs inversusand he had a good laugh at my expression.
~ J. David Richardson, MD, Vice-Chairman of Surgery, University of Louisville
In a good surgeon, a hawk’s eye; a lion’s heart; and a lady’s hand.
-- Leonard Wright, Display of Dutie, 1589
(Read by Patti Hall at Dr. Nicholson’s retirement gala in 1996. Hall also said, “It was my privilege to serve as his personal scrub during much of his practice.”
The Nicholson Clinical Tour
Nicholson Scholars (Nicholson Clinical Tour awardees) are responsible for planning the clinical tour with help from their mentor(s) at the home institution. More than one site may be chosen for a Nicholson Tour, assuming scheduling allows. Scheduling is to be arranged by the Scholar and must be approved by the Program Director and Administrative Chief Resident. Award amount may vary but is typically around $1000 and must pay for travel, lodging and other expenses.
Nicholson Clinical Tour Founders
- William (Bill) Walton, MD, Lexington
- Michael E. Daugherty, MD, Lexington
- Edwin (Ed) Nighbert, MD, Lexington