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A long history of medical firsts

Clinic at Rush with James Herrick, MDRush has a 175-year history of "firsts" and other pioneering efforts that have advanced the practice of medicine. Read about innovations by Rush alumni and faculty members that have changed medical history in Chicago, the Midwest or the nation.


First medical school in Chicago: Rush is chartered March 2, 1837, two days before the city of Chicago.


America’s first African-American physician: David Jones Peck becomes the first African American to earn a medical degree from an American medical college.


Abdominal surgical technique invented: John B. Murphy, MD (class of 1879), invents the Murphy button, a technique for abdominal surgery that became used worldwide.


First registered nurse in Illinois: Nursing instructor Adda Eldredge (class of 1899) becomes the first registered nurse in Illinois after she successfully lobbies for the Nurse Practice Act.


Sickle cell anemia first identified: Rush cardiologist James B. Herrick, MD (class of 1888), discovers sickle cell anemia.


Cause of heart attacks discovered: James B. Herrick, MD, is the first to identify clot formation in coronary arteries as the cause of heart attacks.


Anesthesia innovation: Rush surgeon Arthur Dean Bevan, MD, is first in the U.S. to administer ethylene-oxygen, aided by anesthetist Isabella Herb, MD. Less toxic for both patients and surgical staff, the innovation is quickly adopted by hospitals throughout the country.


Scarlet fever vaccine invented: Rush professor George Dick, MD (1905), and his wife, pathologist Gladys Rowena Henry Dick, MD, discover the cause of scarlet fever and develop a vaccine for the disease.


Chicago’s first cardiac cath lab: Cardiologist James A. Campbell, MD, establishes Chicago’s first cardiac catheterization laboratory in the Department of Medicine at Presbyterian Hospital. Campbell later became the first president and CEO of Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center.


First to reattach a severed hand: William Shorey, MD, John Schneewind, MD, and Harold Paul, MD, of Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital’s Department of Surgery are the first in the country to reattach a severed hand.


Nicotine’s role in heart attack discovered: Pathologist George M. Hass, MD, demonstrates the role of nicotine in the hardening of arteries and the thickening of blood that can lead to heart attack and stroke.


Chicago’s first successful adult heart transplant: Hassan Najafi, MD, chairperson of the Department of Cardiovascular/Thoracic Surgery, performs Chicago’s first successful adult heart transplant at Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital.


Orthopedic mesh invented: Orthopedic surgeon Jorge O. Galante, MD, DMSc, co-develops a titanium mesh material originally for use in cementless hip and knee joint implants. It is now used in artificial joints, tooth implants and some reconstructive surgeries.


First painkilling pump implanted: Richard D. Penn, MD, Judith Paice, PhD, and William Gottschalk, MD, implant a computerized, programmable pump into the abdomen of a patient with cancer to deliver painkillers into the patient’s spine.


Midwest’s first MRI: Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center installs the first hospital-based nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine in the Midwest.


Region’s first comprehensive breast cancer center: Rush opens the region’s first comprehensive breast cancer center featuring a team of oncologists, surgeons, radiation therapists and nurses working together to coordinate individualized care.


Chicago’s first PET scanner: Rush installs the city’s first positron emission tomography (PET) scan machine.


Innovation in infectious diseases: The CORE Center, the nation’s first freestanding, specialized outpatient health care facility for HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, is completed.


Hip replacement technique pioneered: Orthopedic surgeon Richard A. Berger, MD, pioneers a new minimally invasive surgical approach to hip replacement.


First Magnet: Rush becomes the first hospital in Illinois serving adults and children to earn Magnet status from the American Nurses Credentialing Center in 2002. It repeats the honor in 2006 and 2010.


  • Innovation in neurosurgery: Cerebrovascular neurosurgeon Demetrius Lopes, MD, introduces a minimally invasive endovascular treatment for brain vascular malformations.
  • Pioneering depression treatment: Psychiatrists at Rush are the first in Chicago to use a vagus nerve stimulator — an implantable, pacemaker-like device — as a therapy to treat long-term, treatment-resistant depression in adults.


Nation’s first thrombectomy device: Rush is first in the country to use a Penumbra thrombectomy device for acute strokes.


  • First colorectal surgeries performed with robotic freehand: Rush surgeons are first in the nation to use a freehand robotic camera controller to perform colorectal surgery minimally invasively.
  • First in Midwest with comprehensive asthma center: Rush opens the region’s first multidisciplinary center for the treatment of asthma.
  • Largest orthopedic center in Illinois: Rush opens the largest, most comprehensive orthopedic center in Illinois and is the first health care facility in Chicago to achieve Gold LEED Certification for environmentally friendly features.


  • First of its kind in autism: Rush opens the Chicago area’s first comprehensive autism center serving patients from childhood through adulthood.
  • Illinois’ first inside-the-clot stroke treatment: Rush is the first in the state to use the MAX System to treat ischemic stroke.


Nation’s first epilepsy innovation: Rush is the nation’s first hospital to use a newly approved brain stimulator along with a unique placement planning system to help patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy.