American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

Surgical History Education

The American College of Surgeons History and Archives Committee has organized this educational resource on the history of surgery. It is specifically designed for medical students and residents in training. Our goal is to introduce the important milestones that have impacted the field. Knowing these events fosters an appreciation of the contributions that have been made to our field, to science, and to humankind. The resource consists of a number of modules, each focused on a separate topic on the history of surgery. Additional resources are being developed and will be added to the curriculum in the coming years.


Dale C. Smith, PhD, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

This is a general overview of the history of surgery, from antiquity to modern day. At only 15 minutes, it certainly excludes a lot of material, but it provides a foundational arc to help understand general trends in the history of surgery. Other modules can be placed in the context of this one.

Video | Check Your Knowledge | Faculty Discussion Guide

Medieval Surgery

Walton O. Schalick, MD, PhD, University of Wisconsin

Examining the Middle Ages, this module examines the development of the nascent profession. It highlights three major features of medieval surgery that have had enduring influence on modern surgery: university prestige, new schools of thought, and the regulation of practice.


War and Surgery

Dale C. Smith, PhD, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

This module focuses on the axiom of war benefiting surgery. Again tracing a trajectory from ancient warfare until the present war on terror, it demonstrates the relationship between the exigencies of combat and the advance of surgical technology, technique, and practice.


Surgical Education

Justin Barr, MD, PhD, Duke University

Exploring the training of the surgeon from antiquity to the present, this module focuses most of its attention on the formative years of American surgical education, from the creation of academic surgical residencies by Halsted at Hopkins to their national institutionalization by the 1960s.



Beth Linker, PhD, University of Pennsylvania

Of particular interest to students entering orthopaedics, this module examines the transition of that specialty from a non-operative discipline to one defined by operative intervention. In doing so, it casts questions on the process of professional change, how one defines and treats disease, and the nature of surgical decision making.


Surgical Institutions

Peter C. Kernahan, MD, PhD, University of Minnesota

From England’s Company of Surgeons in 1540 to the American College of Surgeons today, institutions have played a profound role shaping the identity of the surgical professions by defining who is a surgeon, how one became so, standards for hospitals, and more. This module analyzes their development over the centuries, focusing its attention on the United States and particularly the history and influence of the American College and Board of Surgery.


RCTs and the CABG

David S. Jones, MD, PhD, Harvard University

CABGs are among the most studied surgical interventions. This highly interactive module traces the origin of this operation and delves into their contested history. In so doing, it examines the development of the randomized clinical trial as a method of creating scientific evidence and explicitly considers the opportunities and challenges of implementing RCTs in surgery. (Intended as an interactive discussion, there is no video associated with this module).

Presentation Slides | Presentation Script

Heart Transplants and Artificial Hearts

Shelley McKellar, PhD, The University of Western Ontario

Heart transplants are one of the most dramatic operations in surgery. This interactive module, complete with primary sources, explores the early days of heart transplants and artificial hearts, raising compelling technical, scientific, and ethical questions about pushing the boundaries in surgery. (Intended as an interactive discussion, there is no video associated with this module).

Presentation Slides | Presentation Script | Barnard AJC 1968 | Cooley AJC 1969

Endocrine Surgery

Wen Shen, MD, University of California, San Francisco

Thyroidectomy and parathyroidectomy are two cornerstone operations of current general surgery training. This module tracks their evolution from feared procedures with 40% mortality to their current status as outpatient therapies, focusing on not only technical improvements but also how these surgeries exemplified the late 19th century surgical renaissance. (There is no video associated with this module.)

Presentation Slides | Presentation Script


Thomas Schlich, MD, McGill University

Practicing germ-free surgery revolutionized the field, reducing morbidity and mortality surrounding operations and dramatically expanding the scope of surgical practice. This module historicizes the evolution of these technologies, spanning form Semmelweiss’ hand-washing to Lister’s carbolic acid to Halsted’s rubber gloves to trace the development of this most important surgical advance.

Presentation Slides | Presentation Script