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A History of Temple Ophthalmology

The Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University was founded in 1901.  By 1903, the first lectures in ophthalmology were being given by Dr. Reninger. In 1906 Dr. Wendell Reber was appointed the department chief and the service consisted of 4 staff ophthalmologists devoted to patient care and teaching medical students.

By 1925, the department had grown to a staff of 6 under the leadership of Dr. Luter Peter. Notable Philadelphia ophthalmologist Edward B. Spaeth joined the faculty in 1928. In 1932 Dr. Winfred Boehringer and a staff  of 4 comprised the department.

In 1933 Dean Parkinson recruited Dr. Walter Lillie from the Mayo Clinic to become the new department chair and to start a residency. Dr. Lillie was a well-known ophthalmologist who contributed to research in ROP and neuro-ophthalmology and was a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Ophthalmological Society and was a prominent figure in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania ophthalmology.  Dr. Lillie recruited a number of new faculty including Dr. H.W. Boehringer, Dr. Glen Gibson and Dr. Edward Bedrossian, the grandfather of current faculty member Ned Bedrossian, MD. Interestingly, Dr. Lillie introduced the idea of individual patient exam rooms – a novel concept at the time.

The first residents arrived at Temple in 1935 making 2015 the 80th anniversary of the Temple residency.  Dr. Lillie continued to lead the department until his untimely death in 1947. His portrait hangs in the first floor hallway of the hospital.   

After Dr. Lillie’s death, the department was led by Dr. Glen Gibson who had been recruited from the Mayo Clinic by Dr. Lillie.  Under Dr. Gibson’s leadership, the faculty grew to 15 ophthalmologists and occupied a 30 exam room facility in the outpatient building. Dr. Gibson was chair from 1947 until 1966 and saw 58 residents trained, a new affiliation with St. Christopher’s hospital and the arrival of Robison Harley to do pediatric ophthalmology.

Between 1966 and 1973, Temple and Wills Eye agreed to merge and Dr. Arthur Keeney became the chair of the combined programs. However the merger did not work out and Wills withdrew their affiliation.

After the breakup, Dr. Harley assumed the Temple Chair and hired new faculty including Dr. Guy Chan who, in 1973, was the first ophthalmologist in Philadelphia to purchase and use an operating microscope. During this time, Dr. Harley also wrote the first textbook of pediatric ophthalmology.  Eventually, the pediatric part of the practice grew to include Don Manley and Joseph Calhoun.

In 1978, Dr. Chan became the chair.  He continued to innovate and invented the Chan surgical wrist rest still in widespread use today. His wife, Nongart Chan, joined the department with a background in ophthalmic pathology having done her fellowship at Johns Hopkins with Dick Green during which she described sickle retinopathy.  During Dr. Chan’s tenure as chair, Temple started a pediatric ophthalmology fellowship which was based at St. Christopher’s and ran until 1999. Dr. Chan stepped down in 1995 and Dr. Jay Kubacki assumed the chair until 2007.  Dr. Chan’s portrait also hangs prominently next to Dr. Lillie’s in the hospital.

Dr. Henderer became chair in 2008 and his time has been marked by renovations, new equipment, new offices, and new research efforts. During this era of growth he has also expanded faculty and grown the resident experience with the addition of a new surgical wet lab in 2019.