Explore UAB


Heersink School of Medicine Department of Surgery 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 Heersink School of Medicine Department of Surgery evolved into one of the leading centers in the United States.

Department Chairs

  • 1945-1949: Dr. James M. Mason, Sr.

    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.

  • 1950-1966: Dr. Champ Lyons

    In 1950, Dr. Champ Lyons was appointed the first full-time Chair 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 Chair 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.

  • 1966-1982: Dr. John W. Kirklin

    In 1966, Dr. John W. Kirklin left his position as Chair of Surgery at the Mayo Clinic to become the third Chair 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.

  • 1982-1999: Dr. Arnold G. Diethelm

    Dr. Arnold G. Diethelm succeeded Dr. Kirklin in 1982 and served as Chair 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.

  • 1999-2015: Dr. Kirby I. Bland

    Dr. Kirby I. Bland was named Chair 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 Chair. Under his leadership, the Department of Surgery expanded both clinical and research activities. New clinical programs were established in all areas of general surgery including laparoscopic surgery, endovascular surgery, trauma/critical care, and surgical oncology. The emphasis on laboratory programs 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 devoted his considerable expertise to training future community and academic surgeons.

  • 2015- Present: Dr. Herbert Chen

    In October 2015, Dr. Herbert Chen was named as the new Chair of the Department of Surgery. A native of Wisconsin, Chen received his undergraduate degree from Stanford University and began his medical education at the Duke University School of Medicine, graduating in 1992. He completed his surgical residency in general surgery at Johns Hopkins in 1999, along with a postdoctoral research fellowship in 1997 and a surgical oncology and endocrinology fellowship in 2000. Dr. Chen came to UAB from the University of Wisconsin, where he was the Layton F. Rikkers, M.D., Chair in Surgical Leadership, chair of the Division of General Surgery, vice chair of Research for the Department of Surgery and professor in the departments of Surgery, Biomedical Engineering and Pediatrics. Dr. Chen is a specialist in endocrine surgery, a funded surgeon scientist, and a dedicated educator.