Julius H. Jacobson II, MD, FACS was a highly accomplished and influential Surgeon. Throughout his career, he made significant contributions to the advancement of surgical techniques, patient care, and medical education, leaving a lasting impact on the medical community. His innovations and expertise led him to be known as the "father of vascular microsurgery".i
Born in Toledo, OH in 1927, Julius ‘Jack’ Jacobson’s family moved to New York City in 1935, where he attended the New York City public school system and graduated high school at the young age of 15. While he had the credentials and intellectual ability to attend an Ivy League school, he did not have the finances. As a result, Dr. Jacobson attended The University of Toledo where he worked his way through college as an amateur photographer.i After graduating from his undergraduate studies at the age of 19, Dr. Jacobson served in the US Navy during World War II. After the war, he completed his medical degree at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, graduating in 1952, and began his residency at New York-Presbyterian Medical Center at Columbia University for general surgery training. It was at Columbia that he evolved his interests in vascular surgery, working under the service of Arthur H. Blakemore, MD Jacobson marveled at the experiments searching for a durable treatment for aortic aneurysms, and gravitated toward the investigative process.ii
As Dr. Jacobson started to become involved with microsurgery in the late 1940s, the dissecting microscope was the instrument of choice. Used for surgery on the eye and other small areas, it allowed surgeons to operate on tiny structures. To work on blood vessels, though, the surgeon and an assistant both had to view the surgery simultaneously. Dr. Jacobson needed a two-person surgical microscope to do this, so he built one himself! Known as the “diploscope” Dr. Jacobson worked with Germany’s Carl Zeiss and Zeiss optical engineers to perfect and make the microscope. On the difficulty of developing the microscope, Dr. Jacobson said:
“One of the greatest frustrations was working with American companies and not being able to get the microscope we wanted. Neither American Optical nor Bausch and Lomb felt they could sell enough operating microscopes to make it worthwhile, asking “Can we sell 10,000?” Instead, we went to Carl Zeiss in Germany who were dedicated to research and development.”iii
The resulting collaboration with Zeiss was a surgical tool of such significance that the original now resides at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.
While the diploscope is his most well-known innovation, Dr. Jacobson’s passion for innovation and research also led him to be the first to use a microscope to anastomose tiny blood cells, and pioneered hyperbaric surgery at Mount Sinai, his longtime professional home.iv On a smaller scale, Dr. Jacobson invented other useful medical tools, including the first combined walker and sitting stool to assist patients in rehab, and a simple device to hold a necktie in place so it did not dangle on a patient’s bed during a physical exam.v
As generous as Dr. Jacobson was with his knowledge and expertise, he, and his wife Joan, also shared their wealth with many important endeavors through philanthropy. In 1994 they worked with the American College of Surgeons (ACS) to establish the Jacobson Innovation award to support novel ideas in surgery. The first award was given to Professor Francois Dubois for his development and promotion of laparoscopic cholecystectomy, and most recently in 2022 to Anthony Atala, MD, FACS for his work in regenerative medicine.i The creation of the Innovation award gave Julius and Joan Jacobson immense pleasure and inspired them to initiate a second and forward-looking award within the College. In 2005 the Joan L. and Julius H Jacobson Promising Investigator Award was created to recognize and encourage the next generation’s innovative surgical thinkers.
Dr. Jacobson was a devoted member of the ACS for over 50 years before he died in December 2022 at the age of 95. His legacy will live on through the Jacobson awards, and in the wider medical community through his research and innovations, during the second half of the 20th century.
[iv] John Jones Surgical Society Newsletter, Volume 10, Number 2, Fall 2007, p14.
[vii] ACS Archives, RG4/SG14/S1 – Series for Jacobson Innovation Award