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Biographical entry Skinner, David Bernt (1935 - 2003)

Hon FRCS 1998; MD Yale 1959.

28 April 1935
Joliet, Illinois, USA
24 January 2003
Thoracic surgeon


David Skinner was an eminent American thoracic surgeon and one of the most influential individuals affecting surgical and medical care in the United States in the last quarter of the twentieth century. He was born on 28 April 1935 in Joliet, Illinois, the first child of James and Bertha Skinner, and educated at Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He joined the Boy Scouts and maintained an interest in the movement throughout his life. After graduating with distinction from the University of Rochester, he studied medicine at Yale, where his MD was awarded cum laude. He trained in general and thoracic surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital, completing his residencies in 1965, when he went to Bristol as senior surgical registrar to Ronald Belsey and developed a life-long interest in surgery of the oesophagus.

During the Vietnam war he served for two years in the US Air Force. He returned to join the surgical faculty of Johns Hopkins Hospital under George Zuidema. At Johns Hopkins he rapidly rose to full professor in 1972. Shortly thereafter he was appointed as the first Dallas B Phemister professor of surgery at the University of Chicago Medical School. He developed an administrative model that encompassed clinical excellence, basic surgical research, dedicated teaching and a remarkable degree of autonomy for faculty growth. His personal devotion to the development of his faculty was life-long and legendary.

In 1987 he moved to New York to become President and chief executive officer of the New York Hospital and professor of surgery at Cornell Medical College. Under his leadership financial difficulties were reversed, a new hospital purchased, a new pavilion built and a merger achieved with the Presbyterian Hospital of Columbia University. He retired in 1999, but remained active as President emeritus of the New York Presbyterian Hospital and professor of surgery and cardiothoracic surgery at Weill Cornell. He served on several philanthropic and corporate boards. He generously hosted the group that travelled from our College to New York under the presidency of Sir Barry Jackson.

During his career he served as President of several scientific and surgical societies, including the Association of Academic Surgery, the Society of University Surgeons and the International Society for Diseases of the Esophagus, and was a member of multiple societies, including the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science. He received three honorary degrees and 15 medals or prizes for his contributions. He was made an honorary medical officer of the fire department of New York city, gaining the parking privilege that came with the honour.

His faith was extremely important to him: he was a trustee of the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago and the Fifth Presbyterian Church of New York. He died on 24 January 2003, following a massive stroke, and is survived by his widow Elinor and four daughters, Linda, Kristin, Carise and Margaret. Linda is a surgeon at Delaware County Hospital.

Sources used to compile this entry: [J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 2003 126 1245-1246, with portrait; information from Tom R DeMeester].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England