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Family Neurosurgeon

Thousands of brain injury victims thank Robert Grossman ’53 for restoring their health.

By Carol Brévart-Demm


“Treatment of a patient with a brain tumor, for example, involves not only the surgery but a lifelong commitment of regular interaction with that person,” says Robert Grossman.

Robert Grossman’s 43-year medical career has been filled with research, patient care, and mentoring of young physicians. The recipient of many awards and honors, last year Grossman received the highest award given by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the Cushing Medal, for his service to neurosurgery.

Grossman is chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at The Methodist Hospital, Houston, and director of the The Methodist Neurological Institute, which he founded in 2004 to advance understanding of the origins of neurological disease and to provide coordinated and comprehensive care.

Grossman has developed operations and treatment for brain injury, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, torsion dystonia, and spinal cord injury. With his colleagues, he has built up the North American Clinical Trials Network, a consortium of 10 hospitals in the United States and Canada, supported by the Christopher Reeve Foundation to develop new treatments for spinal cord injury. He has served as president of the Society of Neurological Surgeons as well as chairman of the American Board of Neurological Surgery and the editorial board of the Journal of Neurosurgery.

Yet, when asked about his career, Grossman prefers to talk about the more-than 10,000 patients he has treated surgically and the relationships he has established with them.

“People think of neurosurgeons as highly specialized, technically oriented individuals, but neurosurgery is often more of a family practice than many other specialities,” he says. “Treatment of a patient with a brain tumor, for example, involves not only the surgery but a lifelong commitment of regular interaction with that person to ensure that the tumor doesn’t return. If your patients like you, then you will treat generations of a family. I’ve operated on parents, children, and grandchildren in a number of families. Patients are always calling to ask for advice about medical problems.”

One patient sadly beyond rescue by either Grossman or any other physician was President John F. Kennedy, who, on Nov. 22, 1963, was rushed to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, where the 30-year-old Grossman had recently been appointed instructor in the Department of Neurosurgery. Along with other physicians, including Chair of the Division of Neurosurgery Dr. Kemp Clarke, Grossman attended Kennedy in Trauma Room I. He reported on his experiences in the November 2003 issue of the journal Neurosurgery and participated in interviews on the National Public Radio show All Things Considered and CNN’s Larry King Live.

An important aspect of Grossman’s career has been the training of young neurosurgeons. He was instrumental in establishing residency programs in neurosurgery at Southwestern Medical School, Texas; Einstein College of Medicine, New York; University of Texas Medical Branch; Baylor College of Medicine, Houston; and The Methodist Hospital. Grossman has trained 90 residents in neurosurgery, about three percent of the 3,000 neurosurgeons currently practicing in the United States. Neurosurgeons who came to work with him as fellows are now faculty members in the United Kingdom, Turkey, Israel, and China.

“Swarthmore had a profound influence in preparing me to be a physician, to teach and do research,” Grossman says. “The intellectual rigor of the faculty and students was part of the influence. But of greater importance was the opportunity to know people with diverse backgrounds, ideas, and values; to do independent study; and to be part of a place that valued scholarship, the proper use of language, and the resolution of conflict by discussion.

“If I have been able to accomplish anything,” he adds, “it has been because I have had outstanding colleagues and a wonderful family—my wife Ellin, daughters Amy Coburn, Kate Rose ’84, and Jennifer Oakley, and nine grandchildren.”

Grossman served Swarthmore as a member of the Alumni Council from 2000 to 2003 and has established a scholarship at the College.

One Response to “Family Neurosurgeon”

  1. did you see the wounds in President Kennedy