Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Department of Neurological Surgery


Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has played a significant role in the study and practice of neurosurgery in Chicago and the world. Following is a timeline of key events in our history.


Dr. Allen Buckner Kanavel (1874-1938), a self-instructed innovator in the surgery of the brain, spine and peripheral nerves, is first to describe the infranasal transsphenoidal approach to the pituitary gland.  With his colleague, the urologist Victor Lespinasse, Kanavel attempted unsuccessfully to treat hydrocephalus in two infants by coagulating the choroid plexus through a cystoscope introduced into the ventricular system.  


In 1917, he and his colleagues decided to establish three schools in which surgery of the nervous system would be taught. The designated schools would be in New York, Chicago, and St. Louis.


He would, in 1920, establish such a program at Northwestern while assuming the position of Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery, choosing Loyal Davis as its first leader.

Dr. Kanavel was one of the 19 original members of the Society of Neurological Surgeons, which was founded this year.


The residency program in neurological surgery at Northwestern University was founded in 1924 by Loyal Davis (1896-1982), under the mentorship of Dr. Kanavel. Davis studied with the neurologist, Lewis J. Pollack, and the renowned neuroanatomist, Stephen W. Ranson.  His work focused on decerebrate rigidity and peripheral nerve injury.  Following his time in the laboratory, Davis traveled to Johns Hopkins Medical School to work with Harvey Cushing.  He would pattern his professional ethic and personality after Cushing’s example.


Dr. Kanavel authored a chapter in the 1930 edition of Ochsner’s Surgery entitled “Diagnosis and treatment of tumors, inflammations and abscesses of the brain,” and wrote about the anatomy of the trigeminal nerve and of the laminectomy procedure. 

Upon his return to Chicago, Davis established Chicago’s first neurosurgical service.  His training program was marked by his insistence on excellence in the hospital and the laboratory.  His goal was to produce not only excellent neurosurgeons but also “principled men and women.”  Davis himself was a strict, quiet and meticulous surgeon, concerned about the welfare of his patients and the growth of his profession and his trainees.  His legacy resides not only in his contribution to our understanding of peripheral nerve injury, but in his many students who have become leaders in neurosurgery.


Dr. Davis becomes the chairman of the Department of Surgery. 


The new V.A. Research Hospital opened across Huron Street just south of Passavant Memorial Hospital in 1954. Northwestern's Medical School was the first to be tightly linked with a V.A. hospital. Dr. Nicholas Wetzel, a former resident of the program under Dr. Davis, ran the neurosurgical service of the V.A. Lakeside Hospital for most of its existence. This association with a V.A. hospital, for the benefit of patient research and student and resident education, became a model for other academic medical centers. 


Paul C. Bucy (1904-1992) became the Chief of Neurosurgery at Northwestern.  A resident of Iowa, Bucy came to Northwestern after training under Percival Bailey at the University of Chicago and studies abroad in London and Breslau.  His investigations of the primate motor system, started during his time with John Fulton at Yale, were instrumental to the development of surgical treatment for movement disorders.  At Northwestern, his work focused on movement disorders as well as spinal cord injury.  He established the first spinal cord injury unit in Chicago and developed an active cranial and spine surgery program at Northwestern.  He was a national figure in neurosurgery and the last surviving founding member of the Harvey Cushing Society at the time of his death.  


Anthony J. Raimondi, MD, (1928-2000) became the third chief of the Division of Neurosurgery. Early in his career, Raimondi worked with electron microscopy to study the effect of brain tumors on the blood-brain barrier.  Later, he focused his energies on pediatric neurosurgery, becoming one of the pioneers of modern pediatric neurosurgery.  His training program continued to emphasize the importance both of clinical and scientific excellence.  Fifteen of Raimondi’s residents have gone on to become chairmen of neurosurgery.


Following a short period during which David Nahrwold, MD, and Leonard Cerullo, MD, served as acting chiefs of the division, Albert Butler, MD, was appointed the Michael J. Marchese Professor of Surgery and Chief of Neurosurgery at Northwestern.  Butler had completed his training with Drs. Çrutchfield and Jane at the University of Virginia.  Under Butler’s guidance, the Program in Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery was established. 


Robert Levy, MD, named acting chief of the division.


H. Hunt Batjer, MD, named the Michael J. Marchese Professor of Surgery and the fifth Chief of Neurosurgery at Northwestern.  


The division of neurological surgery is given departmental status.  


Under Dr. Batjer’s leadership, the department has risen to national prominence, attaining its highest ever ranking of #11 in the U.S. World and News Report of neurology and neurosurgery programs.


Andrew T. Parsa, MD, PhD, an internationally-renowned neurosurgeon specializing in complex tumors of the brain and spine, is named Michael J. Marchese Professor and chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery. 


Following a national search, Dr. Maciej S. Lesniak, Professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Cancer Biology at the University of Chicago, assumed the position of Chair, Department of Neurosurgery, at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Dr. Lesniak is a national and international authority on the treatment of both primary and metastatic brain cancer and the recipient of the National Cancer Institute's Outstanding Investigator Award for transformative cancer research.