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 A. Graham, M.D., as the 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, M.D. (1951-1965), and Walter Ballinger, M.D. (1967 - 1978).
In 1981, Samuel A. Wells Jr., M.D., 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, M.D., Bixby Professor and chairman of the Department of Surgery, the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor and director of the Siteman Cancer Center. As an example, Eberlein was a recipient of the Dr. Rodman L. Sheen and Thomas G. Sheen Award, given annually by the American College of Surgeons for outstanding contributions to the medical profession. The Sheen award has honored the foremost members of the nation’s medical community since its beginning in 1968.
Eberlein was instrumental in developing the Siteman Cancer Center, which was designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute in 2005, six years after its inception. In 2004, he 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. Eberlein most recently was elected president of the American Surgical Association, the oldest and most prestigious surgical organization in America. He also is currently the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
In addition, other Department of Surgery faculty members, in the past several years, have served as presidents of a significant number of major medical societies and associations.
Meanwhile, Washington University School of Medicine continues as one of the premier medical schools in the world ranking 6th among the top research medical schools by U.S. News & World Report.