Coming home: A physician born and raised in East Tennessee brings vast experience in treating women’s cancers to the medical center

By Wendi Hope Hager, Editor

Author Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again. Larry Kilgore, MD, a board-certified leader in gynecologic oncology, would have to disagree. After a very impressive and satisfying 20-year career at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Kilgore is coming home to Tennessee to spend the next stages of his career doing what he loves best: caring for patients and leading gynecologic oncology services at the University of Tennessee Medical Center Cancer Institute in Knoxville, TN.

Most recently he was a gynecologic oncologist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UAB, where he focused on patient care, the delivery of excellent service and advanced cancer therapies, including robotic surgery. That was just part of his job. He also served as a professor and held the J. Max Austin Endowed Chair in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology, he was a senior scientist for the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, fellowship director for gynecologic oncology and residency program director in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Kilgore accomplished all this while publishing, working on numerous committees and task forces and serving as an esteemed board examiner for the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology – affirmation that he has the responsibility and proven expertise to determine whether candidate physicians possess the knowledge and skill to receive board certification in OB/GYN or gynecologic oncology.

Kilgore’s drive and ability were evident at a young age. He came from humble roots in Whitwell, Tennessee, a small coal-mining town just outside Chattanooga. His people were miners, but he aspired to become a veterinarian, somehow finding time to be active in sports while he worked the family farm and excelled in school. An only child, Kilgore was encouraged to perform well academically, and he earned many honors, including that of being his high school’s valedictorian. He attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and earned a BA in biology, then an MD at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. “College was when I decided to become a surgeon,” he explains. “Once in medical school, I was very interested in surgery. I went to UAB because of its prominent fellowship program in gynecologic oncology – certainly one of the top three programs in the nation.”

Although he’d planned to stay at UAB for training and then return home, Kilgore was offered a faculty position at the end of his fellowship and remained there. Now, after two decades of developing, cultivating and advancing his surgical expertise and becoming a leader in gynecologic oncology, he is inspired by the new opportunities and challenges that await him at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. “I reached my career goals at UAB,” he says. “I have a yearning to improve the programs for treating women with cancer at the University of Tennessee Medical Center and in East Tennessee. There are more people for me to help. I love caring for patients, advancing robotic surgery and training resident physicians and medical students. There are fascinating opportunities at the medical center.”

"We truly are blessed and honored to have a physician of Dr. Kilgore's caliber join our faculty and medical center," says John L. Bell, MD, a surgical oncologist, director of the University of Tennessee Medical Center Cancer Institute and professor of the Department of Surgery for University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine. “He brings the 'entire package' with his outstanding clinical care, proven academic skills and extraordinary teaching capabilities. His 'coming home' to East Tennessee will only strengthen the Cancer Institute and GYN oncology services to the entire East Tennessee community. We are thankful for his desire to be a part of our team.”

Gynecologic oncology focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of women with cancer of the reproductive organs, such as ovarian, cervical, or uterine cancer. One benefit of being treated by physicians in this specialty is that they care for cancer patients from start to finish, from prevention to surgery to chemotherapy.

For Kilgore, providing gynecologic oncology services involves offering women in the East Tennessee region comprehensive medical care, immediate access to care, prevention and risk-reduction strategies, courteous and caring support, access to clinical trials and advanced treatments such as robotic surgery – all from one source that meets the needs of our patients and delivers truly excellent care.

When robotic surgery was approved for use in gynecologic oncology, Kilgore took it upon himself to get training so that he could offer his patients minimally invasive surgery that results in shorter hospital stays, quicker recoveries, less pain and smaller incisions. “I’m a proctor for other surgeons and train others in robotic surgery,” he says. “The Cancer Institute has a need for an educator and a clinical gynecologic oncologist with robotic expertise, and I believe I fit that role.”

Kilgore and his wife, Patricia, have recently become empty nesters. Their three children are all currently in college or graduate school: the eldest, Lauren, a law student at Vanderbilt; Travis, in grad school at Ohio University in Athens; and the youngest, Joseph, in his first year at Birmingham Southern College. Kilgore has a passionate love of music and plays guitar. He also enjoys running, golf and all UT sports.

His career achievements have made him a nationally known physician and a respected surgeon. For Kilgore, the decision to choose the University of Tennessee Medical Center signals a new era that includes the further development of gynecologic oncology services at the medical center and the delivery of outstanding care to women in East Tennessee. “This is a call home for me,” he says. “It’s an honor for me to bring my knowledge and training from UAB to the medical center. I’m ready to start my new adventure.”

*This article first appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Frontiers.

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