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Commentary
March 01, 2004

Department of Surgery of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Arch Surg. 2004;139(3):242-244. doi:10.1001/archsurg.139.3.242

Founded in 1765, the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, was the first in America. A young surgeon, William Shippen, after studying anatomy in London, England, with John and William Hunter and obtaining a medical degree in Edinburgh, Scotland, returned to Philadelphia and began a series of lectures in anatomy—the first systematic course in America on any medical subject (Figure 1A). Subsequently, Shippen and his colleague John Morgan founded the university's medical school with Shippen as professor of surgery and anatomy and Morgan as professor of physic. During the American Revolution, Shippen, George Washington's friend and personal physician, became Surgeon General. After the war he continued as professor of surgery and anatomy until 1805. He was succeeded by another famous surgeon, Philip Syng Physick (Figure 2B). Trained in surgery by John Hunter, Physick is often called the father of American surgery. However, Physick's austere manner and dry lectures were blamed for the defection of some University of Pennsylvania students to other medical schools. Because the finances of the school at that time were totally dependent on student tuition, the trustees replaced Physick in 1819 with William Gibson (Figure 2C), an adventurous young man who during his student days in Europe had been wounded in the Battle of Waterloo before returning to America as chairman of surgery at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, at age 23 years. He was a charismatic lecturer who sometimes demonstrated the treatment of gunshot wounds by shooting an animal in front of his class.

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