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Howard C. Naffziger, MD, FACS, 1884-1961

Howard C. Naffziger, MD, FACS (1884-1961) <br>From oil painting portrait by S. Seymour Thomas, 1938.

Howard C. Naffziger, MD, FACS, was responsible, perhaps more than any other person, for developing the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), into one of the outstanding medical centers in the western United States.

Born in Nevada City, CA, and educated at the University of California, where he earned BS, MS, and MD degrees, Dr. Naffziger returned to his alma mater after completing a residency at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, MD. Having studied under William Halsted, MD, and Harvey Cushing, MD, FACS, at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Naffziger decided to pursue neurological surgery and ultimately became world renown as one of the outstanding surgeons in the specialty.

Dr. Naffziger began his career at UCSF as an instructor in surgery in 1912, and continued on as an assistant clinical professor of surgery and a clinical professor of surgery. In 1929, he was appointed professor of surgery and chairman of the department of surgery, a position he held for almost 20 years. He was appointed professor of neurosurgery, in the newly developed UCSF department of neurosurgery in 1947, became professor emeritus in 1951, and for all his service and dedication was ultimately named a regent of UCSF by the Governor of California.

His medical career in the military, serving in both World War I and II, was extensive and in retirement—besides his responsibilities as a regent of UCSF— he served as a civilian consultant in the Korean conflict during the 1950s.

A member of practically every national and international surgical society, as well as regional societies, he was honored by the Royal College of Surgeons and the Philippine College of Surgeons for his 1948, service as chair of the Unitarian Service Committee’s Medical Mission. He served in this same capacity in post-war Poland in 1946. He was a founder of both the American Board of Surgery and the American Board of Neurological Surgery.

Dr. Naffziger’s surgical research and accomplishments were extensive, but because of an emphasis in his writing on the role of the anterior scalene muscle in brachial-plexus compression, that syndrome carries his name: Naffziger’s syndrome.

Serving as a member of the ACS Board of Governors from 1931 to 1937 and a Regent from 1933 to 1952, Dr. Naffziger became the first ACS President from the west coast of the United States. (1938-1939) and continued his service as a member of the ACS International Relations Committee.

According to the obituary written about him by W. Eugene Stern, MD, one of Dr. Naffziger’s guiding sentiments was expressed when he would ask of a colleague who was slowing his pace, “What are you saving yourself for?”


  1. California Medicine, Vol. 95, No. 5, November 1961, 330-331.
  2. J Neuro, November 1961, 711-713. 
  3. Bull of the Am Coll Surg, July-August 1961, 155.

ACS Archives Highlights is a series showcasing the vibrant history of the American College of Surgeons, its members, and the history of surgery. For further information on our featured highlights, search the Archives Catalog or contact the ACS Archivist.