Establishment of the department

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine evolved from a succession of institutions established during the 19th century.

On March 13, 1907, at a meeting of the Ohio Legislature, all properties of the Starling Medical College and the Ohio Medical University were transferred to a new corporation that established the Starling Ohio Medical College. The new corporation included medical, dental, and pharmacy departments. Teaching took place at Protestant Hospital and St. Francis Hospital. On January 10, 1914, the trustees of the Starling Ohio Medical College gave to the state of Ohio all its properties to found the College of Medicine of The Ohio State University, which was established on the south side of the campus.

A timeline of our leaders

The first chief of the Department of Surgery was Dr. William Means, who served from 1914 to 1916. He was followed by Dr. Verne Dodd, who was acting head from 1917 to 1922, and Dr. Charles Hamilton, who was head from 1922 to 1926. Dr. Dodd became head of the department again in 1927. By 1933 there were two parallel but separate departments of surgery. Clinical surgery was directed by Dr. Dodd, who was noted for bedside teaching and who initiated plans for residency programs in specialties. Research surgery was directed by Dr. George Curtis, who was known for his research in thyroid and chest surgery and iodine metabolism. Dr. Dodd served as head of the department until 1947.

In 1946 Dr. Robert Zollinger was appointed professor of surgery at Ohio State, with the understanding that he would assume leadership of the department after Dr. Dodd retired. Dr. Dodd gave Dr. Zollinger a free hand to begin recruiting personnel and developing the existing surgical specialties. One of the first faculty members recruited by Dr. Zollinger was Dr. Edwin Ellison, who had finished his surgical training in 1946. Dr. Ellison went on to become a major influence in the development of the academic department. The training program in general surgery was established as a five-year program, in keeping with the Halstead concept. In 1948, in response to the need for more extensive medical facilities, construction of a new University Hospital building began. The first patient was admitted in 1951. In 1976 a new complex was constructed and named Rhodes Hall. In 1983 the Board of Trustees renamed the original building Doan Hall.

Dr. Zollinger insisted that the department place emphasis equally on scientific activity and patient care. The department developed and maintained an enviable reputation for clinical excellence. Over the years, the department was awarded numerous grants from the National Institutes of Health and other extramural granting agencies. In 1974, after 28 years in the department, Dr. Zollinger retired. Dr. Luther Keith was named Acting Head of the Department until Larry C. Carey, MD was appointed the Zollinger Professor and Chairman of the Department. Dr. Carey was a graduate of The Ohio State University College of Medicine and had taken a straight surgical internship at the Cornell Hospital in New York City and a surgical residency under Dr. Ellison.

Dr. Carey decided to step down as department Chair in 1985 and Dr. Olga Jonasson became the Zollinger Professor and Chair of Surgery in 1987. Dr. Jonasson had a national and international reputation for work in the field of organ transplantation and in general surgery, and chaired the President’s Task Force on Organ Transplantation in 1986.

Dr. Zollinger remained active as professor emeritus of surgery until his death in 1992. After his retirement as an active surgeon he wrote a history of the Department, excerpts of which are presented above.

Dr. E. Christopher Ellison was named the Zollinger Professor and Chair of Surgery in 1999. The son of Dr. Edwin Ellison, he trained under Dr. Carey and worked with Dr. Zollinger, providing continuum to the tradition of excellence. In April 2013 Dr. Ellison stepped-down as chair to focus his efforts as CEO of the Faculty Group Practice. Dr. Robert S.D. Higgins was appointed department chair. In 2015 Dr. Steven Steinberg was appointed interim chairman.  Timothy Pawlik was named Chair of Surgery in August of 2016. 

Contributions and accomplishments of our leaders

Dr. Zollinger

ZollingerWhile serving as chair of the Ohio State Department of Surgery in 1954, Robert Zollinger, MD, identified what would become Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome with fellow surgeon Edwin Ellison, MD. Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome acknowledges the relationship between non-beta islet cell tumors of the pancreas and diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.

Drs. Zollinger and Ellison described a syndrome of ulcerogenic pancreatic tumors (now referred to as gastrinomas) that secrete large amounts of the hormone gastrin. Their findings were published in the October 1955 Annals of Surgery (“Primary Peptic Ulcerations of the Jejunum Associated with Islet Cell Tumors of the Pancreas”).

Dr. Zollinger chaired the Department of Surgery from 1946 to 1974. One of the first faculty members Dr. Zollinger recruited was Dr. Edwin Ellison. Widely known as “The Big Z,” Dr. Zollinger (1903–1992) was renowned in the field of surgery among colleagues, patients and medical students. With surgeon Elliot Cutler, MD, of Case Western Reserve, he published the first edition of the industry standard Atlas of Surgical Operations.

Dr. Klassen

Kklassenarl Peter Klassen was a pioneer in the field of thoracic surgery. In 1950 he was appointed to the faculty of the Department of Surgery by Dr. Robert Zollinger, chairman. Dr. Klassen held that position for 25 years.

Dr. Klassen was the recipient of many awards and honors, including the “Man of the Year” award for outstanding teaching in 1959. He was a founding member of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery. Dr. Klassen was “Mr. Thoracic Surgery” in central Ohio and trained many local and national surgeons in this specialty. He was an authority on stained glass and was active in many artistic and civic groups. His beautiful stained-glass window has become a lasting symbol of The Ohio State University Department of Surgery. 

Until his death in 1978, Dr. Klassen remained the most outstanding teacher in the Department of Surgery at Ohio State. Dr. Klassen’s memory is honored by the Department’s annual Klassen Research Day.

Dr. Ellison 


E. Christopher Ellison, MD, has had a long and distinguished career as a clinician, educator, researcher and senior leader at the College of Medicine and Wexner Medical Center since joining the faculty in 1993.

Dr. Ellison served as chair of the Department of Surgery, interim dean of the College of Medicine, CEO of the Faculty Group Practice, Vice Dean of Clinical Affairs for the College of Medicine, President and CEO of the Ohio State University Physicians, Inc. and the Robert M. Zollinger Professor in the Department of Surgery.

Dr. Ellison successfully and impactfully brought together the medical center’s tri-part mission of research, patient care and education, becoming a leader amongst his peers, a favorite of patients, a mentor to students and a leading physician-scientist in the fields of pancreatic disease, hepatic cancer and wound healing. Dr. Ellison was named both a College of Medicine Distinguished Professor and Professor of the Year.

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