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Department History (1912-2011)

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By Michael J. Zdon, MD

The Department’s history can be traced back to the primary founder of the Chicago Medical School, Norbert Odeon Bourke, MD who applied for the initial Charter of the Chicago Hospital College of Medicine in January of 1912. Bourke was considered a highly qualified Surgeon in Chicago. One of Bourke’s ideas at the time of founding the Medical School was to offer classes at night so that “employed men and women who wished to become physicians could study medicine at night”. Bourke was born in Paris France and received his medical education at the National Medical College of Chicago, a precursor to the Bennet Medical College of Loyola University. He received additional training at the University of Paris and University of Tennessee. His aggressive personality and unconventional views on night time classes did not endear him to the conservative medical community of the city. In 1914, Bourke and the Medical School built the Fort Dearborn Hospital, a 65 bed facility adjacent to the School. One of Bourke’s interests was endocrine Surgery which led him to write a textbook entitled “The Thyroid Gland and Its Diseases” published in 1927. Bourke served as Chair of the Department from 1912 until 1914, at which time Mathias Seifert, MD took over as Chair.

In 1917, the Chicago Hospital College of Medicine absorbed the Jenner Medical College which had been in existence since 1893 and the name was changed to The Chicago Medical School. Rudolph Menn, MD, who had been Professor of Surgery at Jenner, became Chair of Surgery in 1918 and held that position until 1923. Menn trained at the University of Vienna and was an attending surgeon at the German Hospital, Cook County Hospital, and the Illinois Central Hospital. Other prominent Chicago Surgeons on the faculty included Benjamin Breakstone, who was chief Surgeon at the West End Hospital, George C. Hall (President and chief Surgeon of the Provident Hospital), and John McKeller.

In 1923, Dr. Bourke resigned as head of the Medical School and A. Augustus O’Neill, MD became the new Chairman of the Board as well as the new Chairman of the Department of Surgery. O’Neill was a highly respected figure in Chicago Medicine. Trained at Kansas Medical College, Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, and the New York Polyclinic, O’Neill came to Chicago where he developed a large surgical practice. He was a fellow of the American College, and among his accomplishments were President and Surgeon in Chief of the Columbia Hospital, President of the Chicago Medical Society, Regional director of the American Red Cross appointed by Woodrow Wilson, and President of the Chicago Physicians Club. Dr. O’Neill served as Department Chair from 1924 to 1926.

In 1924 the School also reached a formal agreement with Cook County Hospital for the clinical training of its students at that facility. Among the County Staff that provided instruction but were not formal faculty were Karl Meyer, David Strauss, Alex Goldsmith, and Clarence McMullen.

In 1931, the School underwent a major reorganization which included a completely reorganized Board of Directors and a new Constitution. At this time Leslie MacDiarmid, MD, a highly respected Chicago Surgeon was named both Vice President of the newly formed Board as well as Chairman of the Surgery Department. He served as Department Chair from 1931 to 1937.

In the early 30’s, the School made a decision to offer compensation to clinical faculty and with this a number of new prominent individuals joined the Department of Surgery. These included Drs. John Ross Harger, Cassius Rogers, the noted proctologist Charles Drueck, and general Surgeons Wade Harker, Paul Papsdorf, and Edwin Sloan.

The mid 1930’s witnessed another major Board and Constitutional reorganization and at this time Leslie MacDiarmid resigned his faculty and Department Chair position to assume the position of Chairman of the Board. Upon his resignation, Edward A. Christofferson, MD assumed the Chair of Surgery, a position which he held until 1954.

In an effort to solidify clinical training, The Medical School entered into a formal agreement with Mount Sinai Hospital on September 7, 1947 and Mt. Sinai became the primary clinical site for the School. However, the School continued to maintain relationships with other clinical facilities including Cook County Hospital. The agreement with Mt. Sinai brought many new faculty additions. Leo Zimmerman, MD (1955-1961), Richard A. DeWall, MD (1962-1964), Leo Zimmerman, MD (Acting) (1965-1967), Jules L. Whitehill, MD (1968-1970), and Thomas Baffes, MD (1971-1973) all served as Chief of Surgery at Mt. Sinai and Chair of the Surgery Department and the Medical School.

The 1950’s saw many “firsts” for the Department of Surgery. Several surgical faculty were among the first to transplant a heart into a dog successfully. This was reported before the American College of Surgeons in 1951, receiving top billing in the Daily Clinical Bulletin and received national recognition in the press. In addition to the work with heart transplants, the School was to hire Dr. Vera Morkovon the first female diplomate of the American Board of Surgery in Illinois, as a faculty member. The school hired Dr. Roscoe Giles as an Assistant Professor, one of the first four African American members of the American College of Surgeons.

In 1967 a University of Health Sciences was established which encompassed not only the Medical School but also a School of Graduate and Post Graduate Basic Sciences as well as a School of Related Health Sciences. The early 1970’s saw expansion of several Medical Schools in the geographic area surrounding Cook County Hospital. Because of the need for increased clinical material, Chicago Medical School began exploring the possibility of moving to a new site. In 1973, the School was approached by the VA in North Chicago, then known as Downey, a primarily long term psychiatric facility, to relocate to its campus and run the Medical facilities in North Chicago. In addition the School could affiliate with the Great Lakes Naval Hospital, still a significantly sized acute care facility at the time, as well as other interested local hospitals. After discussions with the State Director of Comprehensive Health Planning, the Deans of the Chicago area Medical Schools and the LCME, a move was agreed upon. In July, 1974 the Clinical faculty moved to the North Chicago campus. The move also coincided with a split between the School and Mt. Sinai. The School recruited new clinical chairs with the split from Sinai and in 1974, William Schumer, MD assumed the Chair of Surgery. Dr. Schumer established a new independent Chicago Medical School Surgical residency at the VA and Navy Hospitals. By the end of 80’s the relationship between Mt. Sinai became reestablished. In 1988, he merged the Surgical training programs of Chicago Medical School and Mt. Sinai Hospital and in 1990 came full circle when he became Chief of Surgery at Mt. Sinai in addition to School Department Chair, positions he held until his death in 2000.

Following the death of Dr. Schumer, Michael J. Zdon, MD assumed the position of Acting Chair until the recruitment of Joseph LoCicero, MD by Mt. Sinai and the Medical School . Following a period of 18 months Dr. LoCicero accepted the Chair at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. After another period of Acting Chair by Dr. Zdon, Thomas Vargish, MD was recruited as the Chief of Surgery at Mt Sinai Hospital and Interim Chair of the Department of Surgery at Chicago Medical School, positions which he held until retirement in 2011. In 2004, the University was renamed the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. The North Chicago Campus has expanded and currently contains not only the Chicago Medical School but also the College of Health Professions, the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, as well as the Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine. In 2011, the Medical School entered into an agreement with Advocate Lutheran General Hospital to become its principal clinical affiliate. At that time, John White, MD, Chair of Surgery at Lutheran General, assumed the Chair position at the School.