Department History

Stanford University School of Medicine –1908 (previously Cooper Medical College)

Stanford University, founded in 1895, wasn’t the first home of Stanford University’s School of Medicine. What started as Cooper Medical College in San Francisco would become the first site of the Stanford University School of Medicine in 1908. In these early days general training at the medical school included just two years of basic science followed by 2 years of clinical teaching; in contrast , today’s neurosurgeons complete four years of medical school, seven years training as a resident, and often one additional year of specialty training as a clinical fellow.

In 1917 Stanford University Hospital in San Francisco opened its doors and in 1919 the Stanford Home for Convalescent Children was founded.

Stanford University Hospital –1917

The first Stanford neurosurgeons were Drs. Edward Towne, Ted Fender, and Fritz Reichert. Dr. Towne, a trainee of neurosurgery pioneer Harvey Cushing at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and later the Mayo Clinic, joined the others in 1919 after his discharge from the U.S. Army Medical Corps post World War 1. In 1926 Dr. Reichert, who completed his residency with William Halsted and trained with the eminent neurosurgeon Walter Dandy of Johns Hopkins, was appointed Chief of Neurosurgery; shortly thereafter Dr. Towne resigned. Dr. Reichert continued in this capacity until 1954.

In 1942 Emile Holman, MD, Stanford University’s second Rhodes Scholar, graduate of Johns Hopkins Medical School, and current Chief of Surgery at Stanford Medical School, turned his private practice over to Dr. Reichert. Dr. Reichert was among a small group of neurosurgeons that included Howard Naffzinger, Chair of the Department of Surgery and Division of Neurosurgery at UCSF (also a Cushing trainee), to develop the neurosurgery field in Northern California in the early part of the 20th century.

John Hanbery, MD

A turning point in Stanford Neurosurgery came in 1954 when Emile Holman recruited John Hanbery, MD to the Stanford University School of Medicine as Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery; Dr. Hanbery’s tenure at Stanford would last an amazing 35 years. A Stanford undergraduate, Dr. Hanbery attended the Stanford University School of Medicine where he completed his residency training in general surgery. He was accepted by Walter Dandy to pursue a Neurosurgery residency at Johns Hopkins, however, when Dr. Dandy died, Dr. Hanbery instead went to the Montreal Neurological Institute (McGill University) to study with neurosurgeons Drs. Wilder Penfield and William Cone, founders of the institute.

Five years later in 1959, and 41 years after its founding, the Stanford University School of Medicine moved from San Francisco to its new location on the Stanford University Campus as the Palo Alto-Stanford Medical Center Hospital (co-owned by the City of Palo Alto). That same year Dr. Hanbery temporally left full-time academia to join neurosurgeon Dr. James Golden at the Palo Alto Clinic. He remained on the Stanford teaching faculty, however, and in 1961 he returned to Stanford full-time as Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery, where he established the very first Stanford Neurosurgery Residency training program. In 1964 Roy Cohn, MD, Chair of Surgery, appointed Dr. Hanbery Professor and Head of the Division of Neurosurgery where he would remain until 1989.

John Hanbery was known as a consummate clinician, superb technical surgeon, and leader in the development of Spine Neurosurgery and Pediatric Neurosurgery. Most notable, however, was his devotion and loyalty to Neurosurgery residents. During his tenure he trained 26 residents in diagnostic acumen, surgical proficiency, clinical care, as well as compassionate bedside manner.

In 1974 former residents honored Dr. Hanbery by establishing the John W. Hanbery Neurosurgical Society, an organization of Stanford Resident Alumni and honored guest members that meet annually to present scientific and clinical papers.

Dr. Hanbery also recruited an illustrious group of Neurosurgery faculty who would become instrumental in creating the outstanding Neurosurgery program that exists today, including Gerald Silverberg (1973), Frances Conley (1975), Richard Britt (1977), Larry Shuer (1984), John Adler (1987), and our current Chair, Gary Steinberg (1987). Dr. Silverberg brought microscopic neurosurgery to Stanford and spearheaded the effort to obtain departmental status for Neurosurgery. Dr. Britt, who passed away in 1985, was the first neurosurgical faculty member to receive NIH funding. Dr. Adler’s invention of the CyberKnife completely changed the landscape in the neurosurgical treatment of brain tumors with his frameless and minimally invasive robotic system that targets radiation precisely to a tumor or vascular malformation without damaging nearby radiation-sensitive areas of the brain. Since 1994 over 4,500 patients at Stanford Hospital & Clinics and 70,000 worldwide have been treated with the CyberKnife. Dr. Shuer, former Chief of Staff at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, is the current Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Affairs.

In December, 1995 Gary Steinberg, MD, PhD, became Chair of the Department and began an unprecedented expansion of our clinical and basic research programs. Today our department comprises 61 faculty including 33 neurosurgeons, a pituitary endocrinologist, spinal cord injury physician, interventional psychiatrist and 24 research faculty. Centers for stroke and cerebrovasascular disease, brain tumors, epilepsy, movement disorders, spine disease, head and spine trauma, pediatric neurosurgery, pituitary tumors, peripheral nerve and psychiatric disoders treat many of the most severe pediatric and adult cases using state-of-the-art and minimally invasive diagnostic and surgical techniques. The number of surgical cases has increased 10 times the last 22 years, and Stanford Clinical Neurosciences is No. 1 in bay area neuroscience discharges and the No. 1 academic institution in the US for stroke management according to the University Health Consortium. In the past 22 years NIH and other extramural funding has grown more than 200 fold to $30M/yr, and philanthropy increased greater than 500 fold to $7M annually. More than ever before, academic and clinical research combines scientists and clinicians across multiple disciplines, and numerous basic and translational clinical research efforts are currently underway. Dr. Steinberg led the Stanford Department of Neurosurgery for 25 years, stepping down from the role in 2020.

Dr. Michael Lim, a clinician, surgeon, and researcher of the highest order, returned to Stanford in September 2020 as the new Chair of the Stanford Department of Neurosurgery. From 2000-2007, Dr. Lim trained at Stanford as an intern and resident in Neurosurgery. In 2007 Dr. Lim joined the professoriate of Johns Hopkins, where he served as the director of Brain Tumor Immunotherapy, director of the Metastatic Brain Tumor Center, and division director of Stereotactic Radiosurgery. 

Throughout his career, Dr. Lim has seamlessly collaborated with colleagues across oncology, radiation oncology, pathology, and radiology to develop and translate novel treatments and promising clinical trials from his laboratory to patients with glioblastoma, chordoma, and other forms of brain cancer. Clinically, he has established himself as a foremost expert in brain tumors and trigeminal neuralgia, a condition for which he has developed numerous surgical treatments. As an experienced neurosurgeon, Dr. Lim uses the most advanced techniques, including image-guided surgery, microsurgery, minimally invasive procedures, and endoscopic surgery.

Beyond his technical skill, Dr. Lim has been recognized for his empathetic care by his peers and patients. In October 2016, he received the HealthNetwork Foundation’s Service Excellence Award, which recognizes physicians for high levels of integrity and compassionate care, after being nominated by grateful patients. Additionally, Dr. Lim has demonstrated a great passion for teaching. He has garnered numerous teaching awards and is actively involved in shaping education for organized neurosurgery and oncology nationally and internationally.