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Find historical information about the founding of the Department of Surgery at IU School of Medicine and learn about current and past leadership.
Ruth Lily Library in background with the white stacked IUSM Department of Surgery logo on top

Department History

Prior to 1908
In a pivotal moment in medical history, Dr. John Stough Bobbs conducted the first documented gallbladder surgery back in 1869. This groundbreaking procedure took place in his third-floor office on the south side of Indianapolis, where he successfully removed stones from a 31-year-old woman who had suffered for four years. Little did he realize that this momentous event marked the genesis of the surgical legacy that would eventually evolve into the renowned Indiana University School of Medicine and its esteemed Department of Surgery.

Dr. William Fletcher, MD, joined forces with Dr. Bobbs in 1869, and their collaboration laid the foundation for the Indiana Medical College in Indianapolis. This partnership set the stage for a remarkable journey, as numerous small medical schools across Indiana subsequently aligned with Indiana University. Fast forward to 1903, and the official establishment of IU School of Medicine in Bloomington marked a significant milestone in medical education and research.

Department Leadership

John Oliver

John H. Oliver, MD, served as the inaugural chair of the Department of Surgery from 1908 to 1912 at IU School of Medicine. He hailed from Clermont, Indiana, and earned his MD degree from the Medical College of Indiana in 1881, with additional studies in London, Berlin, Paris, and Vienna. Dr. Oliver's impressive career included professorships in anatomy and surgery at various institutions, and he was a visiting surgeon at St. Vincent Hospital, where he later served as chief of staff in the 1920s. Renowned nationwide for his contributions to industrial surgery and orthopedics, he notably operated on President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 when the president encountered complications from an old leg injury during a visit to Indianapolis. Dr. Oliver was actively involved in medical organizations, having presided over the Indianapolis Medical Society in 1906 and the Indiana State Medical Association in 1917.

Willis D. Gatch, MD, was the second chair of surgery. He served in the position from 1912 to 1947. A native of Aurora, Indiana, he graduated from Indiana University in 1901 and completed his medical degree at Johns Hopkins in 1907. During his tenure at Hopkins, he invented the first hand-cranked "hospital bed" known as the Gatch bed, allowing for independent elevation of a patient's head and knees. After further training at Washington University in St. Louis, he became an associate professor of surgery at IU School of Medicine in 1912, simultaneously managing a private practice in Indianapolis. In 1928, as the head of the surgery department, he established Indiana's first residency programs recognized by the Board of Surgery. Serving as the dean of the School of Medicine from 1931 to 1946, Dr. Gatch played a pivotal role in establishing clinical laboratories and a medical illustration department. During World War II, he facilitated faculty deferments for the School of Medicine to support the medical needs of the armed forces. Following the war, he continued his research on surgical shock.

Harris Schumacher picture

Harris B. Shumacker, Jr. MDserved as the third chair of the Department of Surgery at IU School of Medicine from 1948 to 1968. A native of Laurel, Mississippi, he received his medical training at Johns Hopkins University and underwent surgical training under Dr. Alfred Blalock. Following stints as an instructor in surgery at Yale University and a return to Johns Hopkins, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Upon his return, he became an associate professor at Yale. Dr. Shumacker was a pioneering figure in Indiana's vascular and cardiac surgery, performing the state's first open-heart surgeries and contributing to synthetic graft development. He made significant medical contributions, including describing sympathectomy for frostbite and co-describing post-splenectomy infection and sepsis with Dr. Harold King. Under his leadership, cardiothoracic surgery postgraduate training began at IU School of Medicine, and in 1964, the first renal transplant in Indiana was performed by Dr. John Donohue and Dr. John Glover. Dr. Shumacker's prolific career included authoring over 500 articles, chapters and textbooks.

John Jesseph picture

John E. Jesseph, MD, became the fourth chair of the Department of Surgery and was appointed the Coleman Professor in 1971, succeeding Shumacker's retirement at IU School of Medicine. Dr. Jesseph's tenure witnessed significant expansion within the department, as he recruited leading specialists, such as pediatric surgeon Dr. Jay Grosfeld in 1972 and transplant surgeon Dr. Ronald Filo in 1974, to lead respective divisions. Notably, the IU surgical training program absorbed Marion County General Hospital's program under his leadership. Dr. Jesseph's journey began in Washington state, where he served in the Marines as a Japanese interpreter during World War II. He completed his undergraduate and medical education in Seattle and undertook a surgical residency at the University of Washington, focusing on gastrointestinal surgery, dumping syndrome, and post-vagotomy research. Following research in radiation biology at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, he moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he served as a professor and vice chair in the Department of Surgery alongside Dr. Robert Zollinger from 1965 to 1971.

Headshot of Jay L Grosfeld

Jay Grosfeld, MD, was named the fifth chair of the Department of Surgery in 1985, following a diverse medical journey. He completed his general surgical training in New York City in 1966 under Dr. Frank C. Spencer, then served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps from 1966 to 1968. Afterward, he completed pediatric surgical training at the Columbus Children's Hospital in Ohio from 1968 to 1970, training under Dr. H. William Clatworthy, Jr. Following this, Dr. Grosfeld returned to New York for two years before being recruited by Dr. Jesseph to join IU School of Medicine as a professor and director of pediatric surgery. Here, he pioneered pediatric surgery in Indiana, established a neonatal surgery program, and expanded the operating room facilities. During his tenure, notable medical milestones were achieved, such as the first pediatric heart transplant, liver transplant, and pancreatic transplant in Indiana, as well as significant advancements in trauma care and ECMO procedures.

Fostering Growth

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 ten 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. Now most residents complete two years of research during their residency.

Keith Lillemoe picture

In September of 2003, Grosfeld stepped down as the chair and Keith D. Lillemoe, MD, originally from South Dakota and trained in general surgery at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, was named the sixth chair of the department. With enthusiasm, he led the department and continued to provide excellent teaching to residents and to expand the research within the department. His particularly notable contributions to the department were that he recruited a number of excellent clinicians from prominent institutions and brought all the faculty into a single academic group, eliminating all private practitioners from the department. In the spring of 2011, Lillemoe accepted the role of chair of surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Robert Havlik, MD, was named the interim chair at IU School of Medicine.

Gary Dunnington picture

In the summer of 2012, Gary Dunnington, MD, was appointed the department's seventh chair, bringing extensive experience in surgical oncology, particularly in breast and endocrine disease. Dunnington grew up in New Castle, Indiana, and attended the 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 chair. Dunnington's contributions extend to multidisciplinary breast centers and successful research projects, amassing over 125 peer-reviewed publications. Dunnington's focus on surgical education catapulted IU to being a national leader in surgical education and surgical education research. The surgical clerkship went from being the worst-ranked at the medical school to being the best ranked. He also received numerous teaching awards, including the coveted AOA Robert Glazer Distinguished Teacher award from the AAMC.

Karl Bilimoria picutre

On August 1, 2022, Karl Bilimoria, MD, MS, FACS, a native Hoosier and IU School of Medicine graduate from 2003, became the eighth department chair. His clinical expertise centers on melanoma and sarcoma, while his research focuses on health services, quality improvement, health policy, and medical education. Dr. Bilimoria is the founder of the Surgical Outcomes and Quality Improvement Center (SOQIC), a renowned hub comprising 65 faculty, fellows, and staff dedicated to national, regional, and local quality improvement research that he relocated to IU from Northwestern. With over 400 publications to his name, he's a respected surgeon-scientist who has secured nearly $40 million in research funding. Additionally, he serves as the founding director of the Illinois Surgical Quality Improvement Collaborative, spanning 56 hospitals, and the founding director of the Surgical Education Numbered Trials (SENT) group, spanning 215 hospitals nationwide. He is focused on creating a culture of excellence in clinical care and quality, research and discovery, and surgical education innovation, with particular attention to increasing diversity, equity and inclusion in the department.

61686-Bilimoria, Karl

Karl Y. Bilimoria, MD

Chair, Department of Surgery

Read Bio Karl Y. Bilimoria, MD


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