Department History


John Stough Bobbs, MD, performed the first recorded operation on the gallbladder in 1869, removing stones in a 31-year-old-woman who had been symptomatic for four years in his third-floor office on the south side of Indianapolis. Little did he know that he was really starting the surgical tradition of what eventually became Indiana University School of Medicine and the Department of Surgery.

In 1869, William Fletcher, MD, joined Bobbs, and together they opened the Indiana Medical College in Indianapolis. Over the next 25 years, several small medical schools throughout Indiana aligned with Indiana University. In 1903, IU School of Medicine officially opened in Bloomington.

Department Leadership

John H. Oliver, MD, was the first chairman of the Department of Surgery, serving from 1908 to 1912. He was an Indiana native who completed his medical education at the State Medical College of Indiana. He then studied in London, Paris, Vienna and Berlin before taking his leadership role in the IU School of Medicine Department of Surgery.

Willis D. Gatch, MD, was the second chair of Surgery. He served in the position from 1912 to 1947. Gatch graduated from IU and then completed his medical training at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He was a surgical resident under William S. Halsted, MD, before assuming the chair of Surgery at IU School of Medicine. Gatch was a pioneer in the use of nitrous oxide in anesthesia, had an interest and did research in hypotensive shock, and also worked to develop the adjustable bed which bears his name: The Gatch Bed. Gatch also served as the dean of Indiana University School of Medicine from 1932 to 1946.

Harris B. Shumacker, Jr. MD, became the third chairman of the Department of Surgery at IU School of Medicine in 1948 and served in that position until 1968. A native of Laurel, Mississippi, he completed his medical school training at Johns Hopkins University. He also trained in surgery there under Alfred Blalock, MD. Upon completing his training, Shumacker took a job as an instructor in surgery at Yale University from 1936 to 1938 and then moved back to Hopkins University where he was an instructor from 1938 to 1941. From 1942 to 1946, he served with the U.S. Army in the Pacific theater during World War II. Upon return from the Pacific theater, he served as an associate professor at Yale University from 1946 to 1948.

Shumacker was a pioneer in vascular and cardiac surgery in Indiana, performing the first open-heart surgeries in the State and working to develop synthetic grafts for blood vessel and valve replacement. He described sympathectomy for frostbite and, with Harold King, MD, was the first to describe post-splenectomy infection and sepsis. It was under his leadership that postgraduate training in cardiothoracic surgery was started at IU School of Medicine. In 1964, the first renal transplant was performed in Indiana by John Donohue, MD, and John Glover, MD. Shumacker was a prolific writer, authoring more than 500 articles and chapters and also authored several textbooks.

Shumacker’s retirement from IU School of Medicine, John E. Jesseph, MD, assumed the role of Department chair in 1971 and was appointed the Coleman Professor. Under his leadership, the Department of Surgery expanded. Jesseph recruited a pediatric surgeon, Jay Grosfeld, MD, in 1972 and a transplant surgeon, Ronald Filo, MD, in 1974 to lead those divisions. It was under his leadership that the IU surgical training program absorbed the Marion County General Hospital’s surgical training program into one resident training program.

Jesseph was born in the state of Washington and as a teenager, joined the Marines and worked as a Japanese interpreter. He served as an interpreter during the formal Japanese surrender on board the USS Missouri. After his return from World War II, Jesseph completed his undergraduate and medical school training in Seattle, Washington, and served as a resident in general surgery at the University of Washington under Professor Henry Harkins. He stayed on the faculty at the University of Washington with a focus on gastrointestinal surgery, dumping syndrome, and post-vagotomy research.  From 1962 to 1965, he performed research in radiation biology at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. He then moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he also served as professor and vice chairman of the Department of Surgery from 1965 to 1971 with Robert Zollinger, MD.

Under Jesseph’s leadership, the surgical training base included four hospitals on one campus. These were the Indiana University Hospital, James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children, Richard L. Roudebush Veteran Administration Hospital, and the Marion County General Hospital. It was during his leadership that the surgical training program expanded from four to five years. Jesseph always maintained his ties with the military and served as the Medical Commandant of the Indiana National Guard. He died in 1982 at 56 years of age.

After serving as the interim chairman, Jay Grosfeld, MD, was named the fifth chairman of the Department of Surgery in 1985. He completed his general surgical training in 1966 in New York City under Frank C. Spencer, MD, and served in the U.S. Army Medical Corp from 1966-1968 and then completed pediatric surgical training at the Columbus Children’s Hospital, Ohio from 1968 to 1970 where he trained with H. William Clatworthy, Jr., MD. Upon completion of pediatric surgery training, Grosfeld returned to New York for two years, at which time he was recruited by Jesseph to come to Indiana and become professor and director of pediatric surgery at IU School of Medicine. He pioneered pediatric surgery in the state of Indiana and developed a neonatal surgery program. He developed a post-graduate residency training program in pediatric surgery and promoted the development of pediatric anesthesiology and pathology programs at IU School of Medicine and expanded the operating room facilities.

As chairman, Grosfeld continued to expand the Department of Surgery. John Brown, MD, performed the first pediatric heart transplant in Indiana in 1988. Also in 1988, Peter Friend, MD, from Cambridge University was recruited to begin a liver transplantation program and performed the first liver transplant in Indiana. Mark Pescovitz, MD, performed the first pancreatic transplant in Indiana in 1980. In 1988, Karen West, MD, performed the first ECMO procedure in Indiana and since then, over 500 cases have been performed.  In 1982, Wishard Memorial Hospital (formerly Marion County General Hospital) received Level I Adult Trauma Certification from the American College of Surgeons and this was followed two years later by Riley Hospital being verified as a Level I Pediatric Trauma Center.

In 1988, the IU School of Medicine surgical residency joined with the surgical residency training program of Methodist Hospital, a large private tertiary care facility about one and one-half miles from the medical center.  The IU School of Medicine program now graduates nine chief residents in general surgery per year.  In 1996, the general surgical resident training program increased to six years to include a full year of research training.  This began to usher in a newly expanded research emphasis in the Department of Surgery. The Department’s faculty started to grow in number in the late 1990s with particular emphasis on research physician/scientists.

In September of 2003, Grosfeld stepped down as the chairman and Keith D. Lillemoe, MD, originally from South Dakota and trained in general surgery at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, was named the chairman of the Department. With enthusiasm, he lead the Department and continued to provide excellent teaching to residents and to expand the research within the department.  In the spring of 2011, Lillemoe accepted the role of chairman of Surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Robert Havlik, MD, was named the interim chairman at IU School of Medicine.

In the summer of 2012, Gary Dunnington, MD, was appointed the Department’s seventh chairman. Dunnington grew up in New Castle, Indiana, and attended IU School of Medicine before holding faculty positions at the University of Arizona, the University of Southern California, and Southern Illinois University where he served for 12 years as chairman.