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Our History

History enables us to have meaning and context.  In respiratory health and disease, Thomas Jefferson University  has a rich heritage. Wagner & Savacool wrote a three volume treatise documenting the history of TJU and JMC since 1824, with chapters for each graduating class along with a brief history of significant events and people associated with it.   The University Archives gives details on a variety of issues including a gateway to 10 notable alumni from TJU

History of the pulmonary specialty in the US is largely borne out of the history of tuberculosis (or previously termed “consumption, pthisis, contagion, white plague, or king’s evil”). The invention of the stethoscope by Laennec, Pasteur’s formulation of the germ theory of TB, Koch’s discovery of the tubercle bacillus, Roentgen’s discovery of x-rays were major milestones that led to the formation of the National TB Association (forerunner to the American Lung Association) and the American Trudeau Society (now the American Thoracic Society). Jacobaeus is credited with inventing the thoracoscope to perform pleural procedures.

Interestingly,  Chevalier Jackson (JMC class of 1886, lived 1865-1958) was one of the foremost figures responsible for the development of esophagoscopy and laryngobronchoscopy.  In his Philadelphia bronchoscope clinic he trained numerous students and physicians in his techniques. During the 1920s, Jackson also began a crusade to spread knowledge of preventive measures in order to protect children from inhaling foreign objects. He also campaigned for the passage of a federal law to control hazardous substances available to children. This led to the passage of the Caustic Act of 1927, which required labels on all poisonous substances (skull & cross bones label). Jackson’s career at Jefferson ended with his mandatory retirement in 1930 at the age of 65.

Another notable contributor is John H. Gibbon, who opened a new era in the history of cardiac surgery by developing the first heart-lung machine and performing the first successful surgery with it on 6 May 1953.  A fifth generation physician, John H. Gibbon was born in Philadelphia in 1903. Gibbon received his MD from Jefferson Medical College in 1927 and completed his internship at Pennsylvania Hospital in 1929. It was during his research fellowship at Harvard in the early 1930s that Gibbon initially conceived the idea of an apparatus that could temporarily assume the functions of a patient's heart and lungs. While always known for the heart-lung machine, Gibbon made several other clinical contributions. Editor of the Annals of Surgery and author of Surgery of the Chest, Gibbon was active in and received awards and recognition from numerous medical societies in the U.S. and abroad. In addition, Gibbon held the position of Samuel D. Gross Professor and Chairman of the Department of Surgery at Jefferson from 1946-1967. Gibbon retired from Jefferson in 1967 and died on 5 February 1973.  In 1990, Jefferson paid Gibbon a posthumous honor by renaming the new Thomas Jefferson University Hospital the Gibbon Building, located at 10th and Chestnut.

Prior to Dr. Gibbon becoming the Samuel D. Gross, Professor of surgery, there were two surgical services at Jefferson: one was headed by Dr. Thomas Shallow, and the other headed by Dr. Gibbon. The Shallow service was general surgery alone, but the Gibbon service included thoracic as well as general surgery.  Graduates of the Gibbon service had received training in thoracic surgery, including TB and lung cancer; most proceeded in careers that emphasized the thoracic component of their practice, apart from general surgery. As the field of cardiac surgery advanced future graduates became involved in cardiac surgery, while many such as Dr. Herb Cohn embraced the non-cardiac components of thoracic surgery. Dr. George Willauer was a significant mentor on the field of TB surgery while Dr. Gibbon did much more lung cancer surgery after the first successful open heart case, and turned over the development of cardiac surgery to his associates John Templeton and Rudy Camishion. John Templeton performed non-cardiac thoracic surgery until he became so busy in cardiac that he concentrated on that exclusively. 

Besides Dr. Herbert Cohn, the current Anthony E. Narducci Professor, Vice Chairman for Quality, Department of Surgery, others involved in non-cardiac thoracic surgery were John McKeown, Charles Fineberg, and Benjamin Bacharach. The pulmonary conferences continued after the closing of the Barton Memorial Hospital at Broad and Fitzwater, when the Pulmonary Division was moved to the main campus. These included case presentations of both medical and surgical interest.  Notables from the medical pulmonary division were Harold Israel, Pete Theodos, Jack Kirschner, Jim Fish, John Gottlieb, Krishna Mohan, and John Cohn. In recent years, active participants include Gregory Kane, Sandra Weibel, Bharat Awsare, Sal Mangione as well as the very recent recruits.