History of the Department

The University of Alabama School of Medicine moved from the University campus at Tuscaloosa to Birmingham in 1945. Prior to this time, students had to take their clinical rotations in schools outside of the state. From this modest beginning, the University of Alabama Medical Center evolved into one of the leading centers in the United States. Dr. James M. Mason, Sr. became Chairman of the Department of Surgery in 1945 and served in this capacity until 1949.

Dr. Mason received his M.D. degree from Tulane University and was a resident in surgery at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. He was a founding member of the American College of Surgeons. In 1950, Dr. Champ Lyons was appointed the first full-time Chairman of the Department of Surgery. Dr. Lyons received his M.D. degree from Harvard Medical School and completed his internship and residency training at the Massachusetts General Hospital. After World War II, he served on the faculty at Tulane University and remained there until 1950 when he was appointed Chairman at UAB. Dr. Lyons' major contributions were in the areas of surgical infections and vascular surgery. He continued to lead the department until his death in 1965.

In 1966, Dr. John W. Kirklin left his position as Chairman of Surgery at the Mayo Clinic to become the third Chairman of Surgery at UAB. He had received his M.D. degree from Harvard University and his surgical training at the University of Pennsylvania, the Mayo Clinic, and Boston's Children's Hospital. Under his direction, from 1966 through 1982, the Department of Surgery became a leading academic department. An intellectual in the field of surgery and a pioneer in cardiac surgery, Dr. Kirklin established UAB as an internationally renowned center. In addition, he designed and founded the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation. Development of the HSF led to the construction of the Kirklin Clinic in 1992.

Dr. Arnold G. Diethelm succeeded Dr. Kirklin in 1982 and served as Chairman of the Department of Surgery for the next 17 years. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, he received his M.D. degree from Cornell Medical College in 1958. After completing a research fellowship at the Harvard Medical School under Dr. Joseph Murray, he joined the faculty at UAB in 1967. Following Dr. Kirklin's lead, Dr. Diethelm developed an internationally recognized transplantation program. The first kidney transplant at UAB took place in 1968, followed by the first heart transplant in the southeastern region in 1981. These milestones were followed by liver transplants (1983), the first simultaneous pancreas/kidney transplant (1988), and lung transplants (1989). In parallel with the transplantation program, Dr. Diethelm developed the Alabama Organ and Tissue Procurement Center. This became a model for many other centers around the nation.

Dr. Kirby I. Bland was named Chairman of the Department of Surgery in October of 1999. Originally from Dothan, AL, Dr. Bland received his M.D. degree from UAB in 1968. After completing his surgical residency and fellowship in immunology at the University of Florida, he became a fellow in surgical oncology at the M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute. He has held academic appointments at the University of Louisville, the University of Florida, and Brown University, where he was Professor and Chairman. Under his leadership, the Department of Surgery has expanded both clinical and research activities. The Department faculty now has over $6.5 million dollars in research funding. New clinical programs have been established in all areas of general surgery including laparoscopic surgery, endovascular surgery, trauma/critical care, and surgical oncology. The emphasis on laboratory programs has culminated in the establishment of the Center for Surgical Research at UAB. An internationally known clinical researcher in breast, colon, and rectal cancer, Dr. Bland has devoted his considerable expertise to training future community and academic surgeons.