Stony Brook Surgery at 50: Honoring Founding Department Chair Harry Soroff's Legacy and Challenges for the Future

DOS 50th LogoIn a video featuring William A. Wertheim, MD, MBA, Interim Executive Vice President for Stony Brook Medicine, and Apostolos Tassiopoulos, MD, FACS, Department of Surgery Chair and Chief, Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery, Stony Brook announced the kickoff of the Department of Surgery's year-long 50th anniversary celebration. Click here to watch the video.

This is the first in a series of articles to be posted throughout 2024 as recognition of the history and achievements of the Stony Brook Department of Surgery.

The Department of Surgery was founded in 1974, about three years after the opening of Stony Brook's School of Medicine, under the leadership of the first dean of medicine and first vice president of health sciences at Stony Brook, Edmund D. Pellegrino, MD. Prior to University Hospital's opening in 1980, the Department of Surgery utilized the Northport VA Medical Center as their primary clinical site.

Harry Soroff, MD
Harry Soroff, MD

Harry S. Soroff, MD, the founding chairman of the Department of Surgery, was recruited by Marvin Kuschner, MD, the second dean of medicine. Dr. Soroff arrived at Stony Brook from Tufts University and Boston City Hospital where he was professor of surgery and chief of surgery. He was also the director of surgical research and co-director of one of the first NIH-(National Institutes of Health)-funded clinical research centers.

Among Dr. Soroff's responsibilities during his tenure as department chair was his position as chief of the Gastrointestinal Surgery Division (which provided general surgical care, trauma care and burn care), establishing the general surgery residency program (including the implementation of the curriculum for medical students) and recruiting faculty to lead new surgical divisions. One of the first faculty recruited in early 1974 was Clarence Dennis, MD, PhD, who was a pioneer of open heart surgery and the inventor of the heart-lung machine. By the late 1970s, the Vascular Surgery and Transplantation divisions had been established and were led by chiefs Fabio Giron, MD, PhD, and Felix T. Rapaport, MD, respectively.

As the Department of Surgery entered the 1980s, the transformation from a group of "generalists" to more specialized divisions with specific clinical skills and research areas continued. The decade saw the establishment of divisions for Pediatric Surgery (led by chief, Cedric J. Priebe Jr., MD), Cardiothoracic Surgery (led by chief, Constantine E. Anagnostopoulos, MD, ScD), Surgical Oncology (led by chief, Herbert C. Hoover Jr., MD), Trauma/Surgical Critical Care, which included Suffolk County's only Burn Center and the Living Skin Bank, which was created by Dr. Soroff (led by chief, David J. Kreis Jr., MD); and the Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (led by chief, Arnold E. Katz, MD).

In 1982, in his "Preface" to the Selected Published Works of the Surgical Faculty, Dr. Soroff posed the following questions and challenges for Stony Brook's Department of Surgery:

"What of the future? Will the name of Stony Brook be associated with excellence and innovation? Will our faculty be at the forefront of surgical progress? As founders, it is our responsibility to set the standards and hold a steady course which ensures that the spirit of scientific inquiry be nurtured and honored, not only as a suitable, but as an indispensable attribute of an academic surgeon. For only in this manner will we continue to maintain and enhance a fresh and modern approach to our clinical and teaching activities and develop ourselves into the superlative group we have the capacity of becoming."

Forty-two years later and 50 years after the department's founding, Dr. Soroff's challenge and legacy stand as motivating factors to provide the highest level of patient care, medical education and groundbreaking clinical research for Stony Brook Surgery's faculty, staff and medical students.

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