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With hand in heart: Legendary Billings Clinic cardiac surgeon reflects on career upon retiring

Posted at 6:58 PM, Aug 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-30 12:51:50-04

BILLINGS - After more than 10,000 surgeries and 34 years of service to the Billings community, a legendary Billings Clinic heart doctor is turning in his scrubs for retirement.

Dr. Scott Millikan is leaving a legacy behind in both technology and knowledge and says his last day was emotional as can be.

“Today was a big day for me is the day I left the arena,” he said Friday. “And I'm going to head up into the bleachers.”

He’s retiring to now focus on family, raise his kids and rest, but he says his life’s service to medicine will never really be over.

He came to Billings when Billings Clinic was just a practice and watched and helped as it evolved into a premier hospital where cardiovascular surgery become paramount.

“Coming to Billings, Montana was a road less traveled,” he said.

And looking back at his time here, he says that is by far one of the major highlights of his career- getting to stay in Billings and mend hearts.

“There was something great here. I knew there was something special. And so, we packed the family up, we came to Billings, joined Billings Clinic and got to work," he said.

He worked to build a rewarding career on the shoulders of some of the best heart doctors in the area.

During his career, Millikan watched as Billings Clinic evolved from a private multi-specialty practice in the early 1990s to a massive hospital when Deaconess came into the picture. He saw technology advance to make cardiac surgery safer and more efficient, and he even helped develop a specialized heart team that still performs today as a unit for patient safety.

But as Millikan retires, he knows his real legacy beats on in the hearts he’s repaired for hundreds of patients.

“The other day I had someone say to me, 'Are you Dr. Millikan? And I said, 'yes I am.' He said, 'I want to thank you. You operated on my dad back in 1986.' I said, 'Thanks for saying something.' And as he walked away, he said, 'oh by the way, he's still doing great.' And I said, 'how old's your dad?' And he said, 'he's 95.'” He said. “And I call that a victory.”

After his very last surgery, as emotions subsided and the patient was wheeled into recovery, there was a surprise waiting for Millikan in the hallway as he emerged to talk to his patient’s family.

A round of hallway applause.

“We're going to talk to the family, and I walked around the hall and there was a lot of people clapping their hands for me and that's when I lost it,” he said.

Millikan says he’ll "take heart" in knowing he was a part of something grand, that will live on: Billings Clinic.

“I’ll be rooting for this team as they go on to greater things.”