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Department History

The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has a rich and notable history. Founded in 1765, Penn is the oldest medical school in the United States. William Shippen, M.D. served as the first professor of surgery and made an extraordinary number of major contributions to he development of surgery and surgical research in America, many of which remain important today. In fact, Penn’s Department of Surgery is well recognized for many American surgery “firsts.” In 1804, Penn constructed the nation’s first surgical amphitheatre enabling many to fully observe and learn from operations in progress. The man considered the “father of American surgery,” Philip Syng Physick, M.D., succeeded Dr. Shippen in 1805 and later became one of the first American surgeons to gain international recognition.

The Agnew Clinic painting by Thomas EakinsIn 1877, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine established the nation’s first endowed Professorship in Surgery and first Chairmanship. Through a generous gift of $50,000, Sarah Rittenhouse Barton created the John Rhea Barton Professorship of Surgery in honor of her husband. D. Hayes Agnew, one of the most respected surgeons in the country, was the first incumbent to the Barton Professorship and is perhaps most well known for his portrayal in “The Agnew Clinic,” a portrait painted by Thomas Eakins in 1889 to honor Agnew on his seventieth birthday. Twelve surgeons have had the privilege of the title of John Rhea Barton Professor of Surgery and all have left their marks on American surgical history with many notable firsts. Two of these professors, however, are particularly noteworthy—I.S. Ravdin, M.D. and Jonathan Rhoads, M.D. Dr. Ravdin, a dominant figure in U.S. Academic Surgery will be forever remembered for establishing a strong and vibrant surgical residency program at Penn. Many of his residents became leaders in American surgery. Dr. Rhoads was instrumental in the development of total parental nutrition, which continues to improve and save the lives of countless individuals. Remarkably, 11 of his residents went on to become Chairmen of Departments of Surgery across the U.S.

Drs. Rhoads and RavdinFor 246 years Penn’s Department of Surgery has honored its history by preserving the principles upon which the Department and the School of Medicine were founded while simultaneously setting the standards for the future of medicine. Committed to supporting the University of Pennsylvania Health System, we strive daily to achieve our mission: patient care and service excellence, educational pre-eminence, new knowledge and innovation, and national and international leadership.

Since 2009 Dr. Jeffrey Drebin has served as the John Rhea Barton Professor and Chairman of Surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to his leadership, the Department has an Executive Committee comprised of Deb Rose as Chief Operating Officer, Dr. James Mullen as the Vice Chair of Administration, Dr. Douglas Fraker as the Vice Chair of Research, Dr. Jon Morris as the Vice Chair or Education, Dr. Steve Raper as Vice Chair of Quality, Dr. Kim Olthoff as Vice Chair of Faculty Affairs, Dr. Joseph Serletti as Vice Chair of Finance, and Dr. Ronald Fairman as Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs. There are eleven divisions within the Department of Surgery all led by Division Chiefs who are leaders in their respective fields.

The vision of these leaders is to ensure that Penn Surgery is among the top academic departments of surgery in the country. Four primary goals were established to drive all we do:

  • To build a surgical clinical enterprise throughout the University of Pennsylvania Health System that is recognized as the best in the Delaware Valley and among the top five academic centers nationally.
  • To rank among the top five departments of surgery nationally in terms of extramural funding by establishing an environment that is conducive to high quality basic research and by strengthening the infrastructure for clinical investigation.
  • To enhance the Department’s clinical excellence to maintain it’s leadership position intramurally, regionally and nationally.
  • To develop a sound financial and organizational framework, based on individual and Divisional accountability and responsibility, allowing faculty and staff to achieve personal and Departmental objectives.
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