History of the Program

The history of neurosurgery at NYU Langone Medical Center dates to its early affiliation with Bellevue Hospital Center, the first public hospital in the country, which was founded in 1736. As neurosurgery developed into a distinct specialty during the first half of the 20th century, many of the early leaders enjoyed clinical privileges at Bellevue. For years, four separate services operated at Bellevue: Columbia University, Cornell University, New York University, and a fourth “Bellevue” service. Notable early neurosurgeons to operate at Bellevue included Dr. William Halsted, Dr. Charles McBurney, Dr. Frank Hartley, and Dr. Bronson Ray, among others.

The Department of Neurosurgery at NYU Langone was founded in 1951 with the recruitment of Dr. Thomas I. Hoen. Hoen, born in 1903, graduated from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine then continued on there as a Surgery Fellow under William Halsted. He went on to complete his neurosurgical training with Dr. Harvey Cushing at the Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston, as one of Dr. Cushing’s last trainees.

Hoen continued his neurosurgical training with Wilder Penfield at McGill University in Montreal, during the inaugural days of the Montreal Neurological Institute. He remained on staff there for a time before eventually returning to New York, initially at New York Medical College and then at NYU, where he was Chair of the Neurosurgery Department from 1951 to 1961. As was customary at the time, he also served as a consultant at multiple hospitals in the surrounding areas of Long Island, Westchester and Connecticut. Firsthand accounts of Hoen’s surgical technique suggest that he learned well from his mentor Dr. Cushing: he had meticulous technique, a steady hand, sure judgment and good instincts.

Dr. Joseph Ransohoff was Dr. Hoen’s successor. Serving as Chair of the Department for over 30 years, from 1961 to 1992, Dr. Ransohoff cemented the Department’s local and international reputation as a center of clinical and academic excellence. Born in 1915 into a family of surgeons-both his father and grandfather were academic general surgeons at the University of Cincinnati-he followed in their footsteps, attending Harvard University, and then going on to medical school at the University of Chicago, where he graduated in 1941. After he had initially expressed an interest in cardiothoracic surgery, his father, working behind the scenes, guided him into neurosurgical training. Dr. Ransohoff received his early neurosurgical instruction from Dr. Francis Grant, then went on to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II in the European theatre, gaining an early operative exposure.

Returning to New York after the war, he joined the Halloran Army Hospital on Staten Island in 1946, where he worked with Dr. Lawrence Pool and Leo Davidoff. He then began his formal neurosurgical residency at Montefiore with Dr. Davidoff, also working closely with neurologist Dr. H. Houston Merritt. He went on to a fellowship and then a faculty position at Columbia University, where he developed his interest in pediatric and functional neurosurgery. He was subsequently recruited to NYU Langone Medical Center as Chair of Neurosurgery in 1961.

During his 31 years as Chair, Dr. Ransohoff oversaw a vigorous and demanding training program. He was convinced that the production of elite neurosurgeons required both time and pressure. His quote below is from an article by Steve Fishman that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in March, 1989, toward the end of his tenure:

When you get out of med school, you’re nothing. That’s not how a brain surgeon ought to think of himself. The brochures don’t announce it, but the chief aim of residency is to provide an impressionable young doctor with a sense of mission…by beating the hell out of a resident for half a dozen years, the training convinces this kid with promising hands that, even in the most trying circumstances, he is the person who can-who has to-make a difference. The theory is that if he doesn’t buckle-and that’s a big if-then in the final years of his residency, a guy who once slept through an emergency would come through when crisis strikes-which happens all the time in brain surgery.”

Dr. Ransohoff fostered the careers of many leaders in neurosurgery, including pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Fred Epstein, vascular neurosurgeon Dr. Eugene Flamm and others, many of whom went on to chair other academic programs. He also had a long-term, highly successful collaboration with plastic surgeon Dr. John Converse, an early pioneer in craniofacial surgery. In addtion, Dr. Ransohoff served as the president of the AANS and SNS and had over 300 peer-reviewed publications, on many of which he was first author.

Dr. Patrick J. Kelly was appointed Chair of Neurosurgery at NYU Langone in 1993. A truly masterful and dedicated neurosurgeon, he graduated from the University of Michigan and received his MD from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He then spent two years in neurosurgery residency at Northwestern University with Dr. Paul Bucy, then completed his residency training at the University of Texas after Dr. Bucy left Chicago.

Dr. Kelly was awarded the VanWagenen fellowship by the AANS in 1976, and used that year to learn from the early developers in stereotactic and functional neurosurgery in Europe: Talairach, Gillingham and Guiot. He subsequently developed the concept and practical application of stereotaxis for tumor surgery, advancing the state of the art from the localization of a single coordinate as a target for creating lesions to a system that enabled the definition of tumors as a volume in stereotactic space, and that provided the technical means to remove them.

Dr. Kelly then moved to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, joining Dr. Thor Sundt. There, he continued to refine and develop his techniques, ultimately ushering in the era of stereotactic tumor surgery. He went on to serve as Chairman of Neurosurgery at NYU Langone from 1993 until 2009.

Dr. John Golfinos was appointed as the Chair of the Department in 2010. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton University, then attended Medical School at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He went on to complete his Neurosurgery residency at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona under the supervision of Dr. Robert Spetzler. Dr. Golfinos has published and lectured nationally in the field of neuro-oncology. His principal clinical interests include the treatment of vestibular Schwannoma (acoustic neuroma), gliomas, and metastatic brain tumors. He serves on the board of multiple organizations and professional journals.