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Abbreviated History of Our Program

Strong Memorial Hospital circa 1936
Strong Memorial Hospital (circa 1936)

The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) was founded in 1921 by the renowned pathologist Dr. George H. Whipple, Nobel prize winner for his work on pernicious anemia. Since its inception, URMC has been an institution dedicated to medical education and the training of future physicians. Within this robust educational milieu, the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery Training Program celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020. Looking back, we have graduated 80 residents with nearly 25% going into academic surgery including 13 trainees who went on to become Division and Department Chiefs.

The program began with Drs. Earl Mahoney and James DeWeese who shepherded the growth of the Division through the embryonic years of the 1960’s performing both adult and pediatric cardiac surgery with CT surgery training beginning as a traditional one-year fellowship after General Surgery training.

Initial pediatric cardiac surgery using ice immersion and hypothermia
Initial pediatric cardiac surgery using ice immersion and hypothermia

Dr. Scott Stewart, a graduate of Johns Hopkins and University of Alabama under Dr. John Kirkland, joined the faculty in 1973 to establish new techniques in pediatric cardiac surgery and develop a team dedicated to the treatment of pediatric heart disease.

In 1978, the training program evolved into a two-year fellowship utilizing the cardiothoracic surgical expertise and volume at both Strong Memorial Hospital and Rochester General Hospital.

In 1981, Dr. George Hicks, a URMC graduate, joined the staff to help in the growth of adult cardiac surgery and augment the educational environment for CT residents. He was shortly thereafter joined by Dr. Richard Feins, who established a dedicated section of Thoracic Surgery. Under this model, the Division of Cardiothoracic surgery grew exponentially. Dr. Hicks took over as Division Chairman and program director in 1991 and together with Dr. Feins, expanded the faculty and influence of the program in the region and nationally. 

With the retirement of Dr. Stewart, a new and explosive era in Pediatric Cardiac surgery began with the recruitment of Dr. George Alfieris (1999), who has grown URMC into the leading referral center for the treatment of children with heart disease in all of Upstate New York.

Cardiac transplantation and mechanical circulatory support were initiated by Duke graduate, Dr H Todd Massey, building a robust program in ventricular assist devices.

In 2005, Dr. Feins left for the University of North Carolina amd Dr. Thomas Watson assumed the reins of Thoracic surgery for the next decade and was succeeded by Dr. Carolyn Jones. She has spearheaded the continued growth of the division aided by Drs. Christian Peyre, Joseph Wizorek and Michel Lada, graduates of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, University of Pittsburgh and URMC respectively.

Drs. Hicks and Feins fervor for education was instrumental in creating the TSDA Boot Camp to bring cardiothoracic surgical simulation to all cardiothoracic residents across the country.

Strong Memorial Hospital at night
Strong Memorial Hospital at night

In 2011, URMC became one of the first programs in the US to offer an Integrated Six Year (I-6) program for Cardiothoracic surgical training along with the traditional two-year fellowship. This new paradigm attracting the best and brightest out of medical school into cardiothoracic surgery.

In 2016 Dr. Hicks stopped his active practice in cardiac surgery. Dr. Sunil Prasad, an adult cardiac surgeon with interests in mechanical support and cardiac transplantation from Washington University in St Louis, was selected as the new Chief of Cardiac surgery. He has built a premier program in the management of patients in cardiogenic shock, respiratory failure, and end-stage heart failure, dramatically increasing the numbers of ECMO’s, LVADs and heart transplant performed at URMC. Dr. Peter Knight, a nationally recognized innovator in minimally invasive cardiac surgery leads a busy program in structural heart including TAVRs and minimally invasive valve surgery. The team also includes Dr. Igor Gosev from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dr. Bryan Barrus, a 2017 graduate of the URMC I-6 program. This group now performs more than 1000 cases per year.

With the retirement of Dr. Hicks in 2020, the transition to a new Program Director occurred with the appointment of Dr. Christian Peyre to continue the tradition of excellence in training cardiothoracic surgical residents.