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History of the Department

Stony Brook University Hospital under Construction in the Late 1970s
Stony Brook University Hospital under construction in the late 1970s.

The Stony Brook University Department of Surgery was founded in 1974 with the creation of the University's School of Medicine.

The first chairman was Harry S. Soroff, MD, who assembled the original faculty and defined the leadership role and dynamic character of the Department.

During the first several years of its development, prior to the opening of University Hospital in 1980, the Department used the Northport VA Medical Center as its primary clinical site.

Since then, the Department's continued and steady growth has demonstrated its commitment to the Stony Brook Medicine's four-fold mission of excellence to patient care, education, research, and community service

The Soroff Years

This early period saw the organization of our original educational consortium of hospitals (Nassau County Medical Center, Long Island Jewish, Queens Hospital, and Winthrop); the establishment of our general surgery residency program; and the implementation of our curriculum for medical students.

The period immediately following the opening of University Hospital was one of prodigious clinical growth. During the 1980s, the surgical faculty underwent a transformation from a group of "generalists" into groups with more specialized skills both in the clinical areas and in research.

Since its founding 42 years ago, great things continue to happen in the Department, and all signs at present indicate the future will affirm its history of excellence.

This period witnessed the creation of seven clinical divisions: Pediatric Surgery; Cardiothoracic Surgery (performing the only open-heart surgery in Suffolk County, with the first done in 1983); Surgical Oncology; Surgical Critical Care; Trauma/Burns (with Suffolk County's only Burn Center), and Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. The divisions of Vascular Surgery and Transplantation had both been established in 1977, originally at the Northport VA facility.

In 1986, Stony Brook’s president mandated a formal series of reviews of all clinical departments in the School of Medicine. These reviews were conducted by chairmen from other medical schools.

The reviewers of our Department — Clyde Barker, MD; Arnold Diethelm, MD; and David Sabiston, MD — were, according to their report, "impressed with the competence demonstrated by the full-time surgical faculty, with the progress they have made in building the clinical and teaching programs, and with the enthusiasm they have for taking the next step" in further developing the Department.

These reviewers, moreover, emphasized that the Department’s research programs were well based in both laboratory and clinical activity. This demonstration of excellence in patient care, education, and research measured up to the standard the Department set for itself.

The Abumrad Years

In 1989, Felix T. Rapaport, MD, professor of surgery, who had joined our faculty in 1977 as chief of transplantation, assumed leadership of the Department. He served as acting chairman until Naji N. Abumrad, MD, joined the faculty as chairman in early 1992. Dr. Abumrad furthered the development of the Department, establishing in 1993 our comprehensive Breast Center that became the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Care Center.

Also in 1993, the Department was successful in gaining ACGME accreditation for its residency program in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. In addition, during this period the Department expanded its services to the East End of Long Island with the establishment, in 1994, of the Life Care Center in Hampton Bays.

The Abumrad years also saw the creation of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, as well as the Division of Surgical Research, which established a number of "core" laboratories available to all investigators within the Department to facilitate their research efforts.

Another achievement of this period was that, in 1993, University Hospital gained its designation from the State Health Department as the Regional (Level I) Trauma Center of Suffolk County, under the direction of our Division of Trauma and with the cooperation of the Department of Emergency Medicine.

In 1995, the Department opened Long Island's only Skull Base Institute to provide multidisciplinary cranial base surgery. That same year, the Department performed the County's first cochlear implant surgery, and began to provide the only service of this kind in the area.

The Ricotta Years

In 1996, Wayne C. Waltzer, MD, professor of surgery and chairman of urology (who had originally joined our faculty as an instructor in 1979), assumed leadership of the Department. He served as acting chairman until June 1997, when John J. Ricotta, MD, joined the faculty as chairman.

Dr. Ricotta oversaw continued dynamic growth in the Department, in particular the expansion of diverse programs in minimally invasive surgery, including the establishment of the multi-specialty Center for Minimally Invasive Surgery; the creation of the Division of Education to bolster both resident and medical student teaching programs; and the establishment of the ACGME-accredited surgical critical care residency, colon and rectal surgery residency, and integrated (five-year) vascular surgery residency programs.

During his tenure as chairman, Dr. Ricotta hired over 50 full-time faculty members to grow the department, including several of our current leaders who continue to distinguish the department's clinical and academic excellence; namely, Dr. Roberto Bergamaschi, chief of colon and rectal surgery; Dr. Marvin Corman, author of Corman's Colon and Rectal Surgery, "the gold standard in its discipline" (JAMA); Dr. Alexander Dagum, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery; Dr. Allison McLarty, director of our ventricular assist device program; Dr. David Schessel, chief of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery; Dr. Richard Scriven, director of our education and residency program; Dr. Apostolos Tassiopoulos, chief of vascular and endovascular surgery; and Dr. James Vosswinkel, chief of trauma, emergency surgery, and surgical critical care.

Several of our faculty's physician-scientists recruited by Dr. Ricotta are recognized today as not only national leaders in their fields but international leaders, as well.

Our faculty in 2014 (click on photo to enlarge).

The campaign to create the John J. Ricotta Professorship in Surgery was launched in 2015 to perpetuate the legacy of excellence of Dr. Ricotta's 9-year tenure at Stony Brook (read more).

The Rosengart Years

In 2009, Todd K. Rosengart, MD, was appointed chairman, after serving as interim chairman for a year. Dr. Rosengart joined our faculty in 2006 as chief of cardiothoracic surgery, and continued to serve in that role while chiarman, as well. Among the Department's achievements under his leadership are:

  • The creation of the Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery and the formation of the Upper Gastrointestinal and General Oncologic Surgery Group to broaden minimally invasive surgery for complex GI tumors and other diseases of the GI tract;
  • The recruitment of some twenty new faculty members into these and other areas of the Department, which promises to afford us further advances in clinical care and translational research;
  • The opening of our new outpatient office in Smithtown to provide greater access to our clinical services;
  • The continued accreditation of our general surgery residency program;
  • The initiation of a range of new programs to enhance research productivity;
  • The appointment of the Department's first vice chair for research, A. Laurie W. Shroyer, PhD, MSHA, who will help us to advance scientific knowledge to improve patient care, and will foster opportunities for training in research for the next generation of surgical investigators.
  • The appointment of the Department's first vice chair for clinical affairs, Aurora D. Pryor, MD, who also serves as chief of the Division of General Surgery and director of the new Bariatric and Metabolic Weight Loss Center.
  • The establishment of our Surgical Skills Center, which as a high-tech resource center further enhances our ability to provide a leading-edge training experience for all our surgery residents.

The Department's history demonstrates the success of Stony Brook Medicine and its mission of excellence in patient care, education, research, and community service.

In August 2012, Dr. Rosengart accepted the position of chairman of the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX.

During Dr. Rosengart's time at Stony Brook, the Department of Surgery grew and prospered. When he became the interim chairman of surgery in 2008, we had 27 full-time faculty members; upon his departure the Department had nearly 50 clinicians, educators, and research faculty members.

The number of hospital surgical procedures performed by the Department of Surgery grew over 30% during the fours years of Dr. Rosengart's leadership, topping 8,000 for the first time in our history, and the revenues of the Department grew from $25 million in 2008-09 to $36 million in 2011-12.

The research and education programs, likewise, prospered under Dr. Rosengart's leadership, as seen in the launch of the new Surgical Skills Center, our highly successful annual Resident Research Days and a department research seed grant program, and in the recent full accreditation with commendation of the General Surgery Residency program, as well as its three fellowship programs.

With Dr. Rosengart's departure in November 2012, Alexander B. Dagum, MD, professor of surgery and chief of our Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Division, became interim chairman of surgery. In the announcement of the change in leadership of the Department, Kenneth Kaushansky, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, stated that Dr. Dagum "epitomizes the term academic surgeon."

Serving as interim chairman for nearly a full year, Dr. Dagum maintained the Department's progress. He oversaw the hiring of new faculty, and advanced our programs in patient care, education, research, and community service.

Dr. Mark A. Talamini joined the Department of Surgery as the new chairman on October 1, 2013, the fifth in our history (read more).