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A Brief History of the Department of Dermatology, New York University

  • Author(s): Burrall, Barbara
  • et al.
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A Brief History of the Department of Dermatology, New York University
Barbara Burrall MD
Dermatogy Online Journal 7(1): 7



The early history of the institution now entitled the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology of the New York University School of Medicine, is essentially synonymous with the early history of the development of the field of Dermatology in the United States. Prior to 1882, comprehensive dermatology training could only be obtained in the large centers for dermatology in Europe, particularly Paris and Vienna. But in that year, Dr. Lucius Duncan Buckley, who had trained at l'Hopital St. Louis in Paris, initiated plans for the New York Skin and Cancer Hospital which opened its doors in January of 1883. It was located in the geographical center of New York City (East 34 th Street) and consisted of an outpaitent section and a 29 bed inpatient unit. That small hospital began what is now the oldest operating facility in the United States which is entirely dedicated to the care of skin diseases. That first year, 2700 outpatient visits were logged and 767 inpatients were treated. The Skin and Cancer Hospital's first annual report emphasized that the reason such a unit was needed was that patients with skin cancer and chronic skin disease could not be properly managed on general hospital acute care wards. Furthermore, it was necessary "to create a setting which would make it possible to pursue studies and observations on the nature of skin diseases."

The New York Skin and Cancer Hospital thrived and an expanded and modernized hospital opened in 1889 at a new site on 2nd Avenue and 19 th Street. By 1928, greater than 100,000 outpatient visits annually were recorded. In 1934, New York Skin and Cancer Center became affiliated with the New York post-graduate Medical School. Dr. George Miller MacKee, who was Director of the Department of Dermatology of the New York Post-Graduate Medical School, also was appointed Director of the Skin and Cancer Hospital. This institution became designated "Skin and Cancer Unit of the Department of Dermatology." Though the unit had been at one time affiliated with Columbia University, in 1948 the unit joined the New York University School of Medicine. Prior to the merger of the Skin and Cancer Unit with New York University Medical Center, the role of Dermatology at New York University was so small that its total budget was $5,000 annually. Dr. MacKee, who was the first celebrated dermatologist to be trained solely in the U.S., was instrumental in founding the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Board of Dermatology, and the Society for Investigative Dermatology. He was also an early editor of the Archives of Dermatology and Syphilology for a ten year period. Under MacKee, there was a great expansion of the attending staff and research opportunities, especially after the Skin and Cancer Unit moved to new facilities in the New York University Hospital.

Dr. Marion Sulzberger, who had also been intimately involved with the merger between the Skin and Cancer Unit and New York University, succeeded Dr. MacKee in 1949, becoming the first George Miller MacKee Professor and Chairman . Under his direction, a well orchestrated plan took shape to combine the various components of the inpatient and outpatient units of the Skin and Cancer Unit, University Hospital, Bellvue Hospital and the Manhattan Veterans Administration Hospital. The result became an extraordinary model for an academic department of dermatology promoting research, teaching and clinical care. Some of Dr. Sulzberger's accomplishments included helping to found the Society for Investigative Dermatology, serving as the first editor of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology (1938-1948), and making important advancements in the understanding of cutaneous allergy.

Instrumental in stimulating the growth of this period along with Dr. Sulzberger, was Dr. Rudolph Baer, who became the 2nd George Miller MacKee Professor and Chairman of the New York University Department of Dermatology in 1960. By this time, the department was already world renowned and attracted graduate and post graduate students from around the world. Under his tenure, a great expansion of full time faculty including both clinicians and researchers spurred further expansion and development of cutting edge programs in oncology, immunology, dermatolpathology, photobiology, virology and Moh's microscopically controlled surgery. The American Journal of Dermatopathology and the Journal of Dermatologic Surgery and Oncology were founded and edited by New York University Dermatology faculty members.

Figure 1
Drs. Irwin Freedberg and Redolph Baer in front of a portrait of Dr. Marion Sulzberger.

Dr Irwin Freedberg, who became the 3rd George Miller MacKee Professor and Chairman in 1981, the last year of the New York Skin and Cancer Unit's first century of operation, has been instrumental in continuing the tradition of excellence in research, education and clinical practice. Currently the program includes four hospitals, University, Tisch, Bellvue and Manhattan Veterans Administration. The 135 member faculty provides dermatology training to more that twenty dermatology residents and twenty post graduate fellows besides the more than 500 medical students at New York University Medical School. Therefore, we are proud to introduce the monthly grand rounds cases of the New York University Department of Dermatology which will be a regular feature in future issues of the Dermatology Online Journal.

© 2001 Dermatology Online Journal