Our History

Our department is steeped in a tradition of pioneering and world-famous alumni. In 1825, Jefferson became the first medical college in the country to establish a clinic. Standard medical school curricula then consisted solely of lectures, making Jefferson an innovator in combining patient care with formal education. By 1877, the clinic had become the Jefferson Medical College Hospital, the second hospital in the United States to be directly associated with a medical school.

Perhaps our most famous chair, Dr. Samuel D. Gross, is depicted in the reknowned paintingThe Gross Clinic. Dr. Gross graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1828. He was the first alumnus to be appointed to a professorship at Jefferson and served as Chair of Surgery from 1856-1882 and Co-Chair of Surgery with John  H. Brinton, MD, from 1882-1889.


Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic)

Thomas Eakins, American, 1844 - 1916

Notable Chairs of Surgery

George McClellan, MD

George McClellan, MD, founder of Jefferson Medical College in 1824, and its guiding genius for the first fifteen years, was the school's first chairman of surgery. Dr. McClellan had previously served as personal physician to Thomas Jefferson. Following Dr. McClellan as chairman in 1839 was Joseph Pancoast, MD, a pioneer in plastic surgery. 

Thomas Dent Mutter, MD

Third in the chairmanship was Thomas Dent Mutter, MD, best remembered for establishing Philadelphia's Mutter Museum of medical history.

Samuel D. Gross, MD

Succeeding Dr. Mutter in 1856 was the department's most eminent leader, Samuel D. Gross, MD. Referred to as the "Emperor of American Surgery" in the 19th century, Dr. Gross wrote 14 books and 1,200 articles on surgery, general medicine and medical history. While at Jefferson, Dr. Gross was president of the American Medical Association (AMA) and founded the Philadelphia Academy of Surgery (1879) and the American Surgical Association (1880). Dr. Gross was responsible for devising countless new surgical instruments and techniques. He is also the subject of Thomas Eakins' The Gross Clinic, a famous 1875 painting.

William W. Keen, MD

In 1889, William W. Keen, MD, became chairman and was one of the first physicians to operate on the liver and nervous system, as well as the first to successfully remove a brain tumor. Like Dr. Gross, Dr. Keen was president of the AMA and was widely regarded for his editing of an eight-volume surgery textbook, considered by medical educators to be definitive at the time.

John Chalmers DaCosta, MD

John Chalmers DaCosta, MD, head of surgery from 1907 to 1933, wrote the standard surgery text used through ten editions at American medical schools.

John H. Gibbon, Jr, MD

John H. Gibbon Jr., MD, focused international attention on Jefferson by ushering in a new era of cardiac surgery. Dr. Gibbon, Jefferson professor and chairman of surgery (1956-1967), is renowned in medical history as the inventor of the heart-lung machine, which made possible the world's first successful open-heart operation at Jefferson in 1953.

Francis E. Rosato, Sr., MD

In 1978, Francis E. Rosato Sr., MD, began his 22-year tenure as Chairman. Under his chairmanship Jefferson performed the region's first liver transplant (1984) and hetertopic liver transplant (1988). Widely reputed for his skill and experience, Dr. Rosato authored a number of text books, including one on surgery of the breast, and was instrumental in helping to establish intraoperative radiation therapy as a standard for cancer treatment.

Charles J. Yeo, MD

Charles J. Yeo, MD, became chairman in 2005 after 20 years on the faculty at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Yeo's primary interests and research have been in the field of hepatopancreaticobiliary surgery. He has authored over 500 peer reviewed scientific papers, over 105 book chapters, and edited 17 books or monographs.