Department History

The Early Years (1896-1946)

Pathology has over a century of distinguished history at UNC. A medical faculty and curriculum came into existence at UNC in 1879. Dr. Richard Whitehead, as Professor of Anatomy and Pathology, gave the first course in pathology beginning in 1896. After Whitehead left in 1905, Dr. David Dolley was recruited from Western Reserve in Cleveland to be Professor of Pathology and Histology. He served from 1906-1910, and was succeeded by Dr. Wade Brown, a Johns Hopkins graduate, whose tenure was from 1911-1913.

Dr. James B. Bullitt became Professor of Pathology in 1913 and became Chair once a departmental structure emerged in 1929. He introduced experimental pathology into the department in 1937 by recruiting Dr. Russell Holman who was a Vanderbilt graduate influenced by Goodpasture. Dr. Bullitt retired in 1946 and Dr. Holman became chair but left in July to become Chair of the pathology department at Louisiana State University in New Orleans.

The Brinkhous Years (1946-1973)

Dean W. Reece Berryhill recruited Kenneth M. Brinkhous, M.D., to be Chair of the Department of Pathology in 1946. During his long and illustrious career as Professor and Chair from 1946 to 1973, Professor from 1973 to 1980 and active Emeritus Professor from 1981 to 1998, Dr. Brinkhous not only brought international renown to the Department of Pathology, but also made enormous contributions to the transformation of the UNC Medical School from a rather provincial school to a world class medical institution. Dr. Brinkhous created a major research program in thrombosis and hemostasis that established UNC as an international center of excellence for the study and treatment of hemophilia. One of many notable accomplishments during this time was the invention of the partial thromboplastin time test.

The Department instituted a master’s degree graduate program in experimental pathology in 1953 and a Ph.D. program in 1964. Dr. Robert Wagner, served as Director of the graduate program from 1964 until his retirement in 1986. This program continues today as the Graduate Program in Molecular and Cellular Pathology.

Postdoctoral clinical training commenced in 1946 with one trainee in anatomic pathology. This was the beginning of a long tradition of excellent training of residents and fellows in anatomic and eventually clinical pathology that now includes one of the top residency programs in the country as well as highly sought after advanced subspecialty fellowships in anatomic pathology and laboratory medicine. The residency training program has benefited tremendously from the extremely effective leadership of Dr. Thomas Bouldin, who has been its Director since 1991.

In 1952 when NC Memorial Hospital opened, the Department of Pathology provided anatomic pathology services, including surgical pathology, cytopathology, autopsy pathology, and neuropathology services. At that time, the professional direction of the clinical pathology services was provided by various clinical and basic science departments. The shortcomings of this fragmented professional and administrative direction of the clinical laboratories became apparent in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. When Dr. Christopher Fordham became Dean in 1971, he consolidated the clinical laboratories, which resulted in the establishment of a Department of Hospital Laboratories and a Division of Laboratory Medicine in the School of Medicine. In 1973, William W. McLendon, M.D., was recruited to head both of these units and to hold an academic appointment as Professor of Pathology. Under Dr. McLendon’s leadership, the clinical laboratories at UNC became widely recognized for innovation and excellence in providing pathology and laboratory medicine services.

The Grisham Years

Joe W. Grisham, M.D., was recruited from Washington University by Dean Fordham in 1973 as Professor and Chair of the Department of Pathology, succeeding Dr. Brinkhous. Dr. Grisham’s leadership fostered substantial expansions in the breadth of research, teaching and service provided by the Department. In line with his own research interests, Dr. Grisham recruited outstanding cancer research faculty, including Dr. David Kaufman. He also strengthened or created a variety of other research areas in the Department. For example, his recruitment of Dr. Nobuyo Maeda and Dr. Oliver Smithies in 1988 markedly enhanced research using genetically modified mouse models of disease in the Department and at UNC, and greatly facilitated the growth of vascular biology and genomic research at UNC.

Anatomic Pathology Services were consolidated with the Department of Hospital Laboratories in 1988. Dr. Grisham and Dr. McLendon unified pathology and laboratory medicine at UNC in 1995 by joining the Department of Pathology, Chaired by Dr. Grisham, with the Division of Laboratory Medicine, Directed by Dr. McLendon, to form the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Dr. McLendon retired in 1995 and the clinical laboratories at UNC Hospitals were named the William W. McLendon Clinical Laboratories to recognize the critical role he played in their evolution to world class status. James Folds, Ph.D., an internationally recognized investigator and scholar in the field of clinical immunology, became the Director of McLendon Clinical Laboratories in 1995 and further enhanced the tradition of excellence established by Dr. McLendon.

The Current Era

Dr. Grisham stepped down as Chair in 1999 and was succeeded by J. Charles Jennette, M.D., Brinkhous Distinguished Professor, an accomplished renal pathologist. Dr. Folds retired in 2006 and was succeed as Director of McLendon Clinical Laboratories by Mark Brecher, MD, an internationally renowned leader in transfusion medicine. Dr. Brecher left UNC in 2009 and was succeeded as Director of McLendon Clinical Laboratories by Herb Whinna, MD, PhD, an expert in coagulation and laboratory informatics. As documented on the pages of this web site, the Department continues to fulfill its primary missions to 1) provide outstanding, comprehensive, clinically effective and cost effective pathology and laboratory medicine services; 2) teach clinical and scientific concepts of pathology and laboratory medicine, and mechanisms of disease to a wide variety of learners; and 3) advance the practice of pathology and laboratory medicine, and the knowledge of diseases and disease mechanisms through innovative research spanning the spectrum from basic to translational to clinical research.