Our History

James Garber GalbraithThe Division of Neurosurgery at UAB was initially founded and nurtured by James Garber Galbraith, MD. Neurosurgeons and residents within the division aspire to continue the traditions of clinical excellence, gentlemanly conduct and dedication to their patients and residents that Dr. Galbraith exemplified.


Neurological Surgery at the University of Alabama: A Rich Educational Heritage


In 1954, James Garber Galbraith, MD established the UAB Division of Neurosurgery within the Department of Surgery under the direction of Chief of Surgery, Champ Lyons, MD. Galbraith served as the division director on a volunteer basis. Griffith R. Harsh III, MD joined Dr. Galbraith as a neurosurgery instructor when the division was initially founded. During the division's early years, they provided neurosurgical care at four other Birmingham medical institutions, in addition to UAB.

Galbraith's first resident trainee, Stanley Graham, MD returned to UAB in 1951 after two additional years of training at the Neurological Institute of New York Presbyterian-Hospital/Columbia University. In 1953, UAB recruited Donald B. Sweeney, MD who received his neurosurgical training at Massachusetts General Hospital. With Galbraith serving as the Residency Program Director, these four practicing clinicians provided didactic and clinical instruction for the residency training program for many years. Galbraith and Harsh were local, regional, and nationally regarded clinicians and surgeons. Multitalented, both surgeons performed an extensive range of procedures from pediatric neurosurgery to adult cranial and spinal surgery.

In 1978, Department of Medicine Chair, John Kirklin, MD, appointed Harsh to succeed Galbraith, who retired, as the Division Director of Neurosurgery. Harsh continued to lead clinical and residency training efforts in neurosurgery through October 1986. During his tenure as division chair, his recruitment efforts nearly doubled neurosurgical productivity at UAB as compared to previous years.

Although Galbraith's main area of interest was the surgical treatment of meningiomas, he was one of the first neurosurgeons to perform carotid endarterectomy procedures. Harsh specialized in the treatment of cerebrovascular disease and brain tumors. As compassionate providers, skilled surgeons, and excellent mentors and instructors, both contributed to the neurosurgical literature and were active in state and national professional societies. Galbraith, and in turn, Harsh, would serve as Directors of the American Board of Neurological Surgery and ultimately as Chairmen of the Residency Review Committee for Neurological Surgery.

In 1986, after a nationwide search, UAB Chief of Surgery Arnold G. Diethelm, MD appointed M. Stephen Mahaley, MD to succeed Harsh as the neurosurgery division director. Mahaley's vision was to build a nationally distinguished multi-discipline neuro-oncology service at UAB. To build on his foundation, he convinced G. Yancey Gillespie, PhD to relocate to UAB from the University of North Carolina in 1986. Gillespie founded an immensely successful NIH-funded laboratory at UAB that remains productive and nationally recognized to this day. Mahaley, who resigned due to illness in 1988, was succeeded by Richard B. Morawetz, MD as the division's director.

After completing his neurosurgical training at UAB under Galbraith, Morawetz went on to complete a two-year fellowship at the Massachusetts General Hospital before joining UAB's faculty in 1976. Although for most of his career he was a general neurosurgeon, Morawetz also had a keen interest in neuro-oncology. Like Mahaley, Morawetz was committed to building a multi-discipline "Center of Excellence" in the field, integrating laboratory and clinical science. Favoring sub-specialization in neurosurgery, he recruited for and helped build nationally recognized, well-staffed programs in pediatric neurosurgery, vascular neurosurgery, spinal surgery, and epilepsy surgery.

In 1992, Morawetz recruited neurosurgeon Barton L. Guthrie, MD, now internationally known in the field of stereotactic and functional neurosurgery, from George Washington University in Washington, DC. In 1995, Morawetz recruited neuro-oncologists Steven Rosenfeld, MD, Louis Burt Nabors, MD, and James M. Markert, MD. Additionally, Morawetz recruited W. Jerry Oakes, MD from Duke University to serve as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery in 1992. Oakes developed a busy, high-volume, nationally acclaimed academic pediatric neurosurgical service and fellowship training program.

Markert, who completed his residency at the University of Michigan as well as a fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, brought with him the concepts of molecular biology, viral vectors, and gene therapy. Under his direction, the division serves UAB Hospital, Children's of Alabama, Medical West, The Kirklin Clinic, UAB Highlands, and the Birmingham Veteran's Administration Hospital, and now performs more than 4,000 procedures annually.

In addition, the division runs highly desired neurosurgical residency and fellowship programs. In 2009, Beverly Walters, MD, MSc, FRCSC, FACS joined the faculty as the Director of Clinical Research to coordinate clinical research efforts and spearhead the medical evidence component of the resident education curriculum.

The Division of Neurosurgery became the Department of Neurosurgery on October 1, 2013. The Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama System approved the measure at its meeting June 14, 2013. James Markert, M.D., Director of the Division of Neurosurgery and the James Garber Galbraith Chair in Neurosurgery, is the inaugural Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery, making it the 24th academic department in the School of Medicine.

From humble beginnings in the post-World War II era to the contemporary world of minimally invasive surgery, molecular genetics, and evidence-based practice, the UAB Department of Neurosurgery continues to advance its mission of compassionate patient care, education, and research. The clinical service remains one of the busiest in the nation. The faculty continues to occupy positions of national leadership in neurosurgery and research productivity, which continues to expand annually. Our residents and fellows are sought by the best academic institutions and private practices. Feedback from former residents indicates their training has suited them well to meet any challenges encountered in practice. Most importantly, outcome and quality assurance data indicate that our patients' outcomes are substantially better than standardized and published norms across the practice of neurosurgery.