Washington University School of Medicine was established in 1891, when the St. Louis Medical College became the Medical Department of Washington University. In 1899, the Missouri Medical College, which had been in operation since 1840, joined the Medical Department, uniting the two oldest medical schools west of the Mississippi River.
In 1910, the school entered into an agreement with Barnes Hospital, which still was in the planning stages, and the existing St. Louis Children’s Hospital to allow students into the wards as clinical clerks. The agreement also gave the school the opportunity to conduct clinical research and appoint staff members at both hospitals.
In 1919, the Department of Surgery appointed its first full-time chairman, Evarts Graham, MD, as the William K. Bixby Professor and chairman of the department. Graham, who was surgeon-in-chief at Barnes Hospital from 1919 to 1951, stressed the importance of the basic sciences to the training of surgeons and believed that the study of general surgery should constitute a large share of the time spent in preparing for a career in a surgical specialty.
Graham’s career was marked by many outstanding achievements, including the first successful pneumonectomy for cancer in 1933 and the development of cholecystography as a non-invasive way of evaluating the biliary tree. More than 40 of his trainees went on to become department chairmen or heads of specialty services.
His legacy of integrating basic science research and clinical care to create the surgical scientist was continued by later chairmen: Carl Moyer, MD (1951-1965), and Walter Ballinger, MD (1967 – 1978).
In 1981, Samuel Wells Jr., MD, became the Bixby Professor and chairman of the department. In his 17 years as chairman, he recruited a world-class faculty, emphasized basic and translational research, and placed great emphasis on educating academic leaders in surgery.
This tradition of excellence continues today under Timothy J. Eberlein, MD, Bixby Professor and chair of the Department of Surgery, the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor and director of the Siteman Cancer Center and surgeon-in-chief at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. As a recent example, Eberlein received the 2006 Dr. Rodman L. Sheen and Thomas G. Sheen Award, given each year for outstanding contribution to the medical profession. The Sheen award has honored 39 of the foremost members of the nation’s medical community since the beginning in 1968 and was awarded to Eberlein for his instrumental development of the Siteman Cancer Center, which was designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute in 2005, six years after its inception. Siteman is the only cancer center in Missouri and within a 240-mile radius of St. Louis to hold this prestigious designation. In 2004, Eberlein was elected to the prestigious Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors medical scientists in the United States can receive. In addition, Department of Surgery faculty members, over the past decade, have frequently served as presidents of major medical societies and associations.
In recent years, the department has expanded, with the formation of the Section of Minimally Invasive Surgery in 2007 and the Division of Public Health Sciences in 2011. The division serves as a major center for research, education and outreach in the field of public health.
Meanwhile, Washington University School of Medicine continues as one of the premier medical schools in the world – consistently ranked among the top 10 research medical schools by U.S.News & World Report.
In addition to performing the first successful lung removal for cancer in 1933, Evarts Graham, MD, and colleagues contributed groundbreaking research that linked smoking to the rising tide of lung cancer. He allowed a young medical student, Ernest Wynder, to interview lung cancer patients in an effort to investigate a correlation and agreed to be a coauthor on the report, which appeared in the May 27, 1950 issue of JAMA. Later, he partnered with researcher Adele Croninger to establish a link between smoke, cigarette tar and lung cancer.