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One of the oldest and most prestigious departments of ophthalmology in the United States, the NYU Department of Ophthalmology provides leadership in research, education, and patient care.

About the time Hermann von Helmholtz was revolutionizing the study of the eye in vivo with the invention of the ophthalmoscope and Rudolf Virchow was establishing the separate discipline of ophthalmic pathology, two medical schools were established in New York City, the University Medical College as part of the University of New York (1841) and Bellevue Hospital Medical College (1861).

Each school had its own professor of ophthalmology and otology: Dr. Daniel B. St. John Roussa at the University of New York (one of the founders of Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital and the founder of the New York Post-Graduate Medical School and Hospital in 1882) and Dr. Henry D. Noyes at Bellevue Hospital Medical College (author of one of the earliest textbooks on Diseases of the Eye and a founder of the American Ophthalmological Society in 1864 over which he presided from 1878 to 1884). Following Dr. St. John Roussa in 1882 as professor was Dr. Herman Knapp, a student of von Graefe, Donders, and von Helmholz. Considered by many to be the founder of modern American ophthalmology, Dr. Knapp founded the Archives of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology in 1869, was Professor of Ophthalmology in the University of New York from 1882-1888 and held a similar position at the College of Physicians and Surgeons from 1888-1902.

The eye departments were consolidated under the direction of Professor Noyes. Departments of Ophthalmology in the early part of the twentieth century were small, consisting of a professor-chairman who covered all areas of the discipline with equal expertise. The department at NYU was fortunate to have, during these years many of the giants in American ophthalmology:

  • John E. Weeks (1905-1919) (discoverer of Koch-Weeks bacillus)
  • John E. Wheeler (1919-1928)
  • Webb W. Weeks (1935-1940) (nephew of John Weeks)
  • Daniel B. Kirby (1941-1949) (author of one of the classic textbooks on cataract surgery).

The development of ophthalmology as a separate specialty in the middle of the century brought with it the notion of subspecialization. Under the guidance of Drs. Daniel B. Kirby, Alson E. Braley (1949-1950) and A. Gerard DeVoe (1950-59) the department had on its staff many of the finest ophthalmologists in New York who were in the forefront of the newest advances of clinical ophthalmology. These included:

  • Rudolf Aebli - muscle surgery
  • Walter Atkinson - akinesia
  • Conrad Berens - ocular surgery
  • Milter Berliner - slit lamp biomicroscopy
  • Girolamo Bonaccolto - ocular surgery
  • Harold Brown - ocular motility
  • Ramon Castroviejo - keratoplasty
  • Helena Fedukowicz - ocular microbiology
  • Gerald Fonda - low vision
  • Sidney Fox - plastic surgery
  • Wendell Hughes - plastic surgery
  • Alfred Kestenbaum - neuro-ophthalmology
  • Abraham Kornzweig - embryology
  • Arthur Linksz - visual physiology and optics
  • Townley Paton - eye bank and corneal disease
  • George N. Wise - retinal disease

The integration of the basic medical sciences with clinical medicine is one of the hallmark features of medicine in the second half of the 20th century. Nowhere was this better realized than at NYU. Assuming the chairmanship in 1959, Dr. Goodwin M. Breinin, assembled a pre-eminent group of research scientists and clinical researchers who continue to enhance the department's reputation.