America's pivotal surgical developments highlighted in 'Gifted Hands' lecture

Seymour Schwartz, M.D., distinguished alumni professor at the University of Rochester, signs the companion guide version of his book Schwartz's Principles of Surgery, a mainstay in the education of surgical residents for many years, for fourth-year surgical resident Alex Cuenca, M.D. The book is part of the UF surgical residents' library.

Referencing a notable number of times that the “patient outlived the surgeon,” UF Department of Surgery distinguished visiting lecturer Seymour Schwartz, M.D., presented a historical overview of American surgery milestones on Jan. 28.

Pulling from his book, “Gifted Hands,” published last year, Schwartz highlighted pivotal moments in the history of American surgery, as well as key surgeons who have contributed to the advancement of the field.

The first major American abdominal surgery was performed in 1809 when a 22-pound ovarian tumor was removed by Dr. Ephraim McDowell.

“On the fifth day the patient went home, by herself, on horseback,” said Schwartz. She was the first of a handful of patients noted by Schwartz to outlive the surgeon who performed a novel, life-saving procedure.

Highlighting another major contribution, Schwartz discussed the first human clinical study, noting, that even at that time, the physician had the patient sign a very formal informed consent. In 1833, Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion was published by a physician named Dr. William Beaumont.

Schwartz, a distinguished alumni professor at the University of Rochester, served on faculty for more than 50 years. He is the founding editor of the widely used surgical textbook, “Schwartz’s Principles of Surgery,” and is an active contributor to Schwartz Surgery Online.

During his lecture, Schwartz touched on other milestones including those in specific surgical fields, the care of women, helping to initiate the National Library of Medicine, and in the training of future surgeons. He said the most pivotal American input was from a field of medicine enhancing surgery.

“America’s greatest contribution to medicine, perhaps humanity, is the birth of general anesthesia,” Schwartz said. Anesthesia was first used by Dr. Crawford Long, who practiced in a small Georgia town of almost 800 people, he said. But the credit goes to the medical group in Boston who published the first work on the subject.

“If you look at the history of American surgery, it is amazing the number of them (surgeons) who came from small towns in America,” said Schwartz, who also has published four books on cartography, with a particular focus on the mapping of America.

Kevin Behrns, M.D., chairman of the department of surgery at the UF College of Medicine, said Schwartz is “a surgical scholar, but a scholar in every sense of the word.”