History of the Neurosurgery Training Program

History of the National Capital Consortium Neurosurgery Residency

The history of military neurosurgery is intertwined with the history of neurosurgery itself, with Lieutenant Colonel Harvey Cushing considered a founding father of each. Despite the advancements made during World War I, it was not until World War II that neurosurgical care and a formalized military residency came into fruition. This was in large part from the efforts of Lieutenant Colonel Roy Glen Spurling. While serving at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. from 1942 until 1944, Dr. Spurling formed the first neurosurgical service in the U.S. Army while organizing neurosurgical efforts for the entire Army.

The experience of war and the unique aspects of military neurosurgery were driving factors in the creation of a military neurosurgery training program. The neurosurgical residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was subsequently established by Surgeon General George Armstrong after World War II. Colonel John Martin was appointed the first program director, with the first two residents accepted in 1954. Early leadership of the program that followed Colonel Martin included Major General George Hayes, Colonel Ludwig G Kempe, Colonel Albert Martins, and Colonel Gene George.

After the Vietnam War, the U.S. Navy petitioned for the creation of a new training program within the U.S. Navy Medical Corps. While it was initially attempted at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, California, the U.S. Navy program was ultimately approved and established at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland in 1975 under the direction of Captain Calvin B. Early. Located approximately 6 miles apart, the U.S. Army and Navy now each had a neurosurgical training program. For the next 22 years, the programs interacted with each other frequently. One such recurrent event was the “little Army-Navy game,” which consisted of a case conference where unknowns were presented to each other. From 1983 until 1998, Captains Rob Harris and Morris W. Pulliam led the Navy program.

In 1998, the Army and Navy residencies merged under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Richard Ellenbogen. This was a part of a larger consolidation of training programs between Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Naval Medical Center-Bethesda, producing the National Capital Consortium to oversee military graduate medical activity in the area. After leading the merger, Lieutenant Colonel Ellenbogen turned over the newly formed program to Colonel James Ecklund, who served as Chairman and Program Director from 1998 until 2007.

From 2007 until 2015, the NCC neurosurgery training program was led by Colonel Michael Rosner. It was during this time that the program underwent a major transformation. As decreed by the Base Realignment and Closure law of 2005, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which had initially opened its doors in 1909, and National Naval Medical Center-Bethesda came together at one location to form the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in 2011. Currently under the guidance of Commander Chris Neal, the National Capital Consortium program still serves as the only active duty military training program in the nation carrying on the mission of training military neurosurgeons from the Navy, Army, and Air Force while caring for active duty, dependent, and retiree populations.

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