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October 2005 Issue

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Revitalizing a Surgical Place of Honor

Published October 2005

UC and University Hospital team up
to restore historic amphitheater

When Jay Johannigman, MD, looks up at the natural light beaming through the skylight of the surgical amphitheater at University Hospital (UH), he remembers legendary surgeons who practiced right here in Cincinnati.

As he says, it's truly a place of honor that deserves preservation.

UC's Department of Surgery, in collaboration with UH, recently completed a five-year, $250,000 project to restore the last surgical amphitheater built in the United States--one of only a handful remaining. Dr. Johannigman, chief of trauma and critical care at UC, chaired the amphitheater restoration committee.

Last month the Department of Surgery rededicated the amphitheater to serve its traditional role--as a place of surgical teaching and demonstration--at a ceremony attended by the residents and faculty who will once again use the space for weekly surgical grand rounds.

"The amphitheater restoration helps us maintain our tie to the great traditions of surgical care at University Hospital, the Academic Health Center and in the United States," says James Kingsbury, executive director of UH 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 project included extensive repairs to the original skylight, a new heating and air-conditioning system and ceiling, new windows and seat cushions, updated audiovisual equipment and fresh paint.

Artifacts--including original anatomical sketches by renowned medical illustrator Mary Maciel--are on permanent display both inside the amphitheater and in the corridor outside, emphasizing the historical significance of the space.

"When we started the renovation, we opened the medical cabinets and found the names of all the residents who trained here inscribed on the doors. There is a real sense of tradition here," says Dr. Johannigman.

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 procedures.

In the early 20th century, patients were still undergoing operations in their hospital ward beds--not in specialized rooms designed for surgery. As surgeons became familiar with demonstrating surgical anatomy on cadavers in amphitheaters, it was only a matter of time before they began teaching operating techniques on live patients in the same setting.

History in the Making

In 1915, Christian 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 train new surgeons.

The result was Cincinnati General Hospital, which had four separate surgical wards and whose innovative, pavilion-style architecture was designed to prevent the spread of disease. At the center--literally and figuratively--was the Surgical Institute, which included four operating rooms and the surgical amphitheater.

To commemorate the opening of the hospital, 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 surgeons trained by William Stewart Halsted, professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University. Today, UH and the College of Medicine provide graduate medical education to 74 residents and fellows in nine surgical specialties.

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