Many giants in the surgical field have helped establish the University of Kentucky Department of Surgery as a first-rate clinical and academic institution in Kentucky and around the globe. The department is built on a strong 60-year tradition of excellence in teaching, innovation in research and compassionate service to Kentuckians in need. The department is recognized in Kentucky for its care of trauma patients, multi-organ transplantation, minimally invasive surgery and specialty pediatric surgical services.

Click the following link below for A History of the Department of Surgery at the University of Kentucky (1960-2005), written and compiled by Robert M. Mentzer, Jr., MD, Frank C. Spencer Professor and Chairman, with the help of Ben Eiseman, MD, Ward Griffen, MD, Gordon Hyde, MD, and Ms. Jennie K. Leavell.

The Department of Surgery's Founding

The site selected for the new medical school, which would become the UK College of Medicine, was a cornfield between the main University campus and several College of Agriculture buildings. William R. Willard, MD, who was then at Syracuse University, was chosen as the first dean of the medical college.

Dr. Willard along with other members of the Kentucky Medical Education Foundation convinced Ben Eiseman, MD, professor of surgery at the University of Colorado and the president of the Society of University Surgeons, to become the first chairman of the UK College of Medicine Department of Surgery. Dr. Eiseman was intrigued with the opportunity to create a new surgery department in "a bucolic place with no school, a small farmhouse, and a cornfield."

The College of Medicine Department of Surgery officially started with Dr. Eiseman's arrival on July 1, 1961. Within seven days of opening, the first departmental operation, a thoracotomy, was performed. Dr. Eiseman wrote in his first annual report: "The offices and laboratories that now are crowded originally stood bare and empty and on more than one occasion, it was not entirely clear how we were going to fill them properly with either people or equipment."

Our First Patients

In April 1962 the A. B. Chandler Hospital was ready to accept its first patients, and the faculty, residents and medical students rose to the challenges of teaching and caring for hospitalized patients. Within three months time, 165 various operations were performed. Simultaneously, Dr. Eiseman developed a program to permit the residents to operate with members of the volunteer faculty at St. Joseph Hospital and Central Baptist Hospital. He also worked with another volunteer faculty member, Dr. Warren Proudfoot, to initiate a resident rotation at St. Claire Hospital in Morehead, Ky. In addition, residents participated in an exchange program set up by Dr. Eiseman between UK and St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, England. In the academic year 1963-1964, the total number of major operations performed at UK increased to 1,713.

William Willard Building original
The offices of the “Cornfield Dean”, Dr. William R. Willard ca. 1960

Official Founding of the Department of Surgery
Operations in first three months of 1962
Major Operations in Academic Year 1963-1964

Our Leaders


Ben Eiseman, MD

The College of Medicine Department of Surgery officially started with Dr. Eiseman's arrival on July 1, 1961. He obtained a grant, funded by the Kentucky chapter of the American Cancer Society, and the department's research program was born.

Ward O. Griffen, MD, PhD

Dr. Griffen was recruited to UK by Dr. Eiseman in 1965, serving as associate professor of surgery before becoming chair of the department in 1968. He held that position for more than 15 years, and under his direction, clinical volume in the department virtually doubled by the late 1970s. Dr. Griffen also made significant contributions to surgery. In 1977, he introduced the Roux-en-y to the gastric bypass procedure. In 1984, he was named executive director of the American Board of Surgery and served in that role for a decade.

Byron Young, MD

Dr. Young moved from the neurosurgery division to become chair of surgery in 1985. To address the research mission, he recruited surgical faculty with backgrounds in research and full-time PhD investigators. He also recruited faculty with strong commitments to teaching to enhance medical student and resident education. By 1991, there were 50 full-time faculty in the department. Near the end of Dr. Young’s tenure, the number of operative cases and out-patient visits had increased to 8,500 and 49,000 cases respectively, and the clinical income exceeded $19 million.

Robert Mentzer, Jr., MD

Dr. Mentzer, Jr. was recruited to serve as the fourth chairman of the department in 1996. He was also appointed as the first Frank C Spencer Endowed Professor of Surgery and director of UK Transplant Center. Dr. Mentzer came to UK from the University of Wisconsin where as chief of cardiothoracic surgery he developed an active thoracic organ transplant program and an NIH-funded cardiovascular research program.  By 2004, there were 77 faculty members in the department of surgery representing nine specialties. The total number of operations performed exceeded 13,000 and the outpatient clinic visits were in excess of 85,000. In 2005, the surgery business office calculated fee submissions at $86.5 million with collections at $29.3 million. In 2006, Dr. Mentzer was recruited to be dean of the School of Medicine at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

Joseph Zwischenberger, MD

In clinical practice, teaching, and research, the department flourished during Dr. Zwischenberger's term. He played whatever role was necessary to recruit outstanding faculty, encourage research and innovation, and supported the clerkships, residency, and fellowship programs. By 2018, the number of operating rooms doubled, and more than 33,000 procedures were performed. In the same year, a few years after urology and ENT had spun off into their own departments, surgery faculty published over 170 research journal articles. In Dr. Zwischenberger's division, the UK Transplant Center performed 208 solid organ transplants in 2018, "placing UK HealthCare in the top quartile of transplant volume in the United States."

William B. Inabnet III, MD, MHA

Dr. Inabnet became chair of the UK Department of Surgery in September 2019. Prior to accepting his appointment with the University of Kentucky, Dr. Inabnet served as the Eugene W. Friedman, MD, Professor of Surgery with the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City and as surgical director of the Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine. He also served as the system chief of endocrine surgery for the eight-hospital Mount Sinai Health System and is the founder and co-director of the Mount Sinai Adrenal Center. An international authority in the field of minimally invasive endocrine surgery, Dr. Inabnet is a pioneer of new techniques in minimal access endocrine neck surgery as well as adrenal and pancreatic surgery. In 1998, he performed the first endoscopic thyroid resection in the U.S.

Ben Eiseman
Dr. Ben Eiseman

Chairman 1961-1967
Ward Griffen
Dr. Ward O. Griffen

Chairman 1967-1984
Byron Young
Dr. Byron Young

Chairman 1985-1996
Robert Mentzer
Dr. Robert Mentzer, Jr.

Chairman 1997-2006
Dr. Joseph Zwischenberger
Dr. Joseph Zwischenberger

Chairman 2006-2018
Dr. William Inabnet
Dr. William Inabnet

Chairman 2019-Present

The Department Continues Making History

As of 2021, the department now has 11 divisions, 87 faculty, 40 advanced practice providers, 80 residents and fellows, and 115 staff helping lead the way in the advancement of surgical education, clinical care, and research. 

annual number of operations
Faculty Members as of 2021
Outpatient Visits