The School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania was founded by a young physician, John Morgan, MD, in the fall of 1765. At that time, it was the first and only medical school in the 13 American colonies. The original faculty, including John Morgan, had earned their medical degrees at the University of Edinburgh and supplemented Edinburgh's courses with advanced training in anatomy and clinical practice in the great city hospitals of London. The founding faculty introduced two important elements which continue to characterize the Perelman School of Medicine: an institution of higher learning and bedside teaching under a preceptor. In the 1870's, the faculty persuaded the trustees to build a teaching hospital – one to be owned by the University and staffed by the medical faculty. The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania was the first such teaching hospital built for a medical school for bedside teaching.
Orthopaedic Surgery at the Perelman School of Medicine became a distinct discipline from general surgery in 1877, when De Forest Willard, MD, was named Clinical Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery. Dr. Willard was instrumental in the development of the Orthopaedic Hospital and Infirmary for Nervous Diseases at Penn, which was probably the most completely equipped specialty hospital in the country in 1850.
In 1911, Gwilyn C. Davis, MD, followed Dr. Willard as chairman. He also was fundamentally a clinician. He wrote a major text – Applied Anatomy – which stressed surgical approaches based upon anatomical structures. He also described the first subtalar arthrodesis for the treatment of the sequelae of poliomyelitis.
Arthur Bruce Gill, MD, succeeded Dr. Davis in 1920. Dr. Gill developed a specialized interest in the surgical treatment of congenital dysplasia of the hip with the shelf procedure. He became technically adept with this procedure, achieving clinical results matched by few surgeons. He was an astute clinician who advised medical students: "Cultivate accuracy in observation, in thinking, and in expression. The second is dependent on the first and the third on the first and the second."
Paul C. Colonna, MD, came to Penn from Oklahoma as chairman in 1942. Dr. Colonna also focused considerable energy on the treatment of congenital dysplasia of the hip, for which he devised an operative procedure that was performed worldwide. He also devised a second operation for ununited femoral neck fractures with an avascular femoral head. Under Dr. Colonna's leadership, all fracture care at Penn became the purview of the faculty of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.
David Grice, MD, was chair from 1958 until his untimely death in 1960 in an airplane accident. He was a world authority on the surgical treatment of the sequelae of poliomyelitis. He developed the technique for the extra-articular arthrodesis of the subtalar joint, a technique which carries his name and continues to be performed today.
Edgar L. Ralston, MD, assumed leadership of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery following Dr. Grice's fatal accident. Under Dr. Ralston's leadership for 17 years, the residency program was expanded and an emphasis was placed upon clinical and basic research. The clinical program and faculty experienced exponential growth with the incorporation of six hospitals into departmental activities. The faculty developed an international reputation during this period.
Paul B. Magnuson, MD, a former student of De Forest Willard, died in 1974. Mrs. Magnuson endowed a professorship at Penn and also at Northwestern University, where Dr. Magnuson had risen to become the Chair and Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery.
Carl T. Brighton, MD, PhD, succeeded Dr. Ralston in 1977 and immediately established the importance of basic research. He developed an interdepartmental research enterprise that was the envy of every department in the country. He also was responsible for the development of subspecialty services at Penn. The orthopaedic residents at Penn participated in basic investigations and received a "bedside" education in clinical orthopaedic surgery. This tradition of a preceptorship in the office, operating room, and ward, in addition to emphasis upon the basic aspects of pathophysiology at the cellular and molecular levels , continues to characterize educational pursuits at Penn today.
Today the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Penn Medicine continues to be a pioneer in the field of orthopaedics. Penn's physicians are researching and developing new treatments, teaching future orthopaedic surgeons, and helping to improve the lives of patients.