History of Surgery at Mayo Clinic

By Mayo Clinic Staff
William Worral Mayo Dr. William Worrall Mayo, 1904.

Surgery at Mayo Clinic began with the frontier practice of Dr. William Worrall Mayo, who moved to Rochester in 1863. Dr. Mayo's two sons, William J. and Charles H., assisted him in his practice at very early ages. After finishing medical school, both sons joined their father's growing practice — Dr. Will in 1883 and Dr. Charlie in 1888.

Saint Marys Hospital opened in Rochester on Sept. 30, 1889. On that day, according to popular accounts, Dr. Charlie performed the first surgery at the new hospital. Assisted by his brother and father, he removed a cancerous tumor of the eye.

Between 1889 and 1905, the Mayos were personally responsible for all operative work done at Saint Marys Hospital. In 1904 alone, the doctors performed more than 3,000 operations. To handle the growth of their practice, the Mayos opened a third operating room at Saint Marys in 1905. Dr. E. Starr Judd took charge of this room. His appointment began the development of Mayo's surgical staff.

The Mayos maintained an "open-door" policy to other members of the medical profession. During operations, the brothers always discussed their procedures for the benefit of visitors. As the numbers of visiting surgeons grew, movable, elevated metal stands were positioned to allow a better view of operations from the sidelines. Over the operating tables, large adjustable mirrors provided a complete view of the operating field. This demand for advanced medical training led the Mayos to establish the country's first graduate program in clinical medicine. The Mayo Graduate School of Medicine opened in 1915.

As their practice grew, the Doctors Mayo encouraged their medical staff to develop clinical specialties. Each physician devoted attention to a particular area of medicine, and all physicians combined skills to provide superior patient care. This specialization led to the development of new surgical disciplines, including: orthopedics, neurosurgery, ophthalmology, thoracic surgery and dental surgery.

The Mayo brothers routinely visited other medical centers around the world to learn more about new procedures and ideas. They brought their findings back to Rochester to implement. This practice sparked a habit of innovation at Mayo. For example, early Mayo surgical contributions include the development of the low anterior resection for colon and rectal cancer, endoscopic injection of esophageal varices, and advances in resection of the stomach for cancer. In addition, many operating techniques and instruments still in use today were developed by Mayo Clinic surgeons, including the Balfour retractor, the Mayo stand, the Mayo scissors, the Adson pickups, the Harrington Behrens, and the Adson-Beckman retractors.

Mayo Clinic history includes more than a century of innovations in the surgical treatment of patients, from the first open-heart surgery in 1955 to the first total hip replacement in 1969 to the early use of robotic laparoscopic surgery in 2002. Today, 255 Mayo Clinic surgeons treat more than 76,000 surgical patients each year, proving that the Mayo legacy of surgical teamwork and innovation is still alive.


For more information on the history of surgery at Mayo Clinic:

Daly RC, Dearani JA, McGregor CG, Mullany CJ, Orszulak TA, Puga FJ, Schaff HV, Sundt TM 3 rd, Zehr KJ. Fifty years of open heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2005 May;80(5):636-40.

Spinner RJ, Al-Rodhan NRF, Piepgras DG. One-hundred years of neurological surgery at the Mayo Clinic. Neurosurgery. 2001 Aug;49(2):438-446.

Morrey BF, Ivins JC, Et. Al. Orthopedic Surgery at the Mayo Clinic. 1910-1990. Rochester, MN: Mayo Foundation; 1990. 185 P.

Kirklin JW. Open-heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic. The 25th anniversary. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 1980 May;55(5):339-41.

McIllrath DC. General Surgery at the Mayo Clinic 1900-1970. Rochester, MN: 1980. 214 P.

Nelson CW. Mayo Roots: Profiling the Origins of Mayo Clinic. Rochester, MN: 1990. 350 P.

Kelly KA, van Heerden JA, Stickney Beck C. [Chapter] On Being a Mayo Clinic Surgeon. In: Kelly KA, Sarr MG, Hinder RA, editor(s). Mayo Clinic gastrointestinal surgery. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders; 2004. 1-18.

Strand PK. A Century of Caring 1889-1989. Rochester, MN: 1988. 115 P.