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Surgical Amphitheater
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Publish Date: 08/31/05
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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Historic Cincinnati Surgical Amphitheater Restored, Rededicated

UC and University Hospital have collaborated to restore the last surgical amphitheater built in the United States—one of only a handful of surgical amphitheaters remaining.

UC Department of Surgery rededicated the space to serve its traditional role —as a place of surgical teaching and demonstration—at 8 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 31, when more than 100 residents and faculty gathered for a ceremony regarding the history of the space. In the future, the space will be used for weekly surgical grand rounds.


"The amphitheater restoration helps us maintain our tie to the great traditions of surgical care at University Hospital and the UC Medical Center, and in the United States." says James Kingsbury, executive director of University Hospital and senior vice president of the Health Alliance. "Together with our partners at UC, we have many firsts and distinctions. The amphitheater helps us remember those great traditions and accomplishments."

The five-year, $250,000 restoration project included extensive repairs to the original skylight, a  new heating and air-conditioning system and ceiling, new windows and seat cushions, updated audio/visual equipment and fresh paint.

Artifacts—including original anatomical sketches by renowned medical illustrator Mary Maciel—will be on permanent display in the corridor leading to the amphitheater.

"Most people don’t realize that many legendary surgeons practiced right here in Cincinnati,” said Jay Johannigman, MD, chief of the trauma and critical care division at UC and chairman of the restoration committee. "The amphitheater is truly a place of honor that deserves preservation, and we are pleased to be a part of the process.”

Surgical amphitheaters played a key role in the training and education of surgeons. Residents frequently gathered in these naturally-lit rotundas to watch leading surgeons perfect surgical procedures.

"In the early 19th century, patients were still undergoing operations in their beds in hospital wards—not in specialized rooms designed for surgery,” said Robert Bower, MD, vice chair of education in the UC Department of Surgery. "As surgeons became familiar with teaching anatomy operations on cadavers in amphitheaters, it was only a matter of time before they began teaching operating techniques on live patients in the same setting.”

In 1915 Christian R. Holmes, MD, dean of UC’s College of Medicine, set out to create a Cincinnati medical center based on the new Johns Hopkins University model: a teaching hospital where the university and hospital worked together to serve the community and teach new surgeons.

The result was the Cincinnati General Hospital, a pavilion-style facility that contained four separate surgical wards, designed to prevent the spread of disease throughout the hospital. At the pavilion’s center—literally and figuratively—was the Surgical Institute, which included four operating rooms and the surgical amphitheater.


Once the hospital was completed, Dr. Holmes presented Cincinnati Mayor Frederick Spiegel with a gold key that would open any lock in the building, a symbol of the hospital and university’s joint commitment to the city’s sick and injured.

UC’s surgical residency program was one of the first outside Baltimore to be established by individuals trained by William Stewart Halsted, the professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University. Today, the hospital and College of Medicine offer graduate medical education programs in nine surgical specialties, which encompass 74 residents and fellows.

"We are faced with the increasingly difficult challenge of attracting the brightest medical students to the field of surgery, and we hope this amphitheater will serve as a reminder of our proud teaching tradition of surgeons,” said Dr. Bower.

The amphitheater restoration project was funded by UC Department of Surgery, University Hospital, the Mont Reid Surgical Society and University Hospital medical staff and auxiliaries.


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