Harkins Society History

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The photo was taken at Denny Park on Lake Washington. Dr. Harkins pats Dr. John Stevenson on the back at the Department picnic. Later that day, Dr. Harkins suffered a fatal MI as he walked up the beach after getting up on a slalom water ski for the first time. The slalom water ski was one of his long-held goals.

In 1955 “The Society of the Golden Pouch,” a spoof surgical society, was established by residents to honor the Department of Surgery’s first Chairman, Henry N. Harkins, on the occasion of a dinner celebrating his fiftieth birthday. The “founders” intended that the new society would disband at the end of the evening.

The Harkins Society, as it was renamed, instead went on to become the Department’s Alumni Society. Its membership includes the Department of Surgery Faculty, former chief residents, and fellows. In 1963, the Society was incorporated as a tax-exempt organization. Today, the Harkins Society is rich with tradition.

The goals of the Henry N. Harkins Surgical Society are to:

  • establish and maintain fellowship, friendship, and a sense of unity among the members of the society;
  • aid and support the UW Department of Surgery through its administration, faculty, and residency programs so as to further the interests of the Department in the performance of its mission of surgical education;
  • provide a means by which the surgical and personal interests and achievements of the individual members can be disseminated among the other members;
  • bestow awards for conspicuous achievement in the field of surgical medicine;
  • present research papers at professional meetings of the Society; and
  • financially help the Department of Surgery, UW School of Medicine, or any charities qualified as organizations exempt from federal income tax.

Henry Harkins (1905-1967) was born in Missoula, Montana, and grew up in Chicago, where his father was a professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Chicago. He received an MS and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Chicago. He graduated in medicine from Rush Medical College in 1924.

He served as Instructor in Surgery at Wayne State University and Associate Professor of Surgery at Johns Hopkins University before coming to the University of Washington as Professor of Surgery and the first Chairman if the Department. He was also the first chairman appointed to a clinical department in the new Medical School. He exerted an important influence in many of the subsequent appointments and helped guide the initial development of the School of Medicine. It was a time of recruiting for the school, developing curriculum, defining the School’s position in the medical community, and for organizing the research laboratories.

He published over 360 articles on surgical subjects including burns, freezing, shock, groin hernias, gastric physiology, peptic ulcer disease, Billroth I operation, selective vagatomy, and surgical education.

He was Editor-in-Chief of the Quarterly Review of Surgery (renamed Review of Surgery in 1962) from 1943 to 1967. From 1948 he served on both the Editorial Boards of Annals of Surgery and The Western Journal of Surgery (renamed Pacific Medicine and Surgery in 1964).

Partially as a result of his second John Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in Surgery, he began a trip that took him around the world one and a half times in 1965 to 1966. He served as a Visiting Professor at the Universities of Melbourne, New South Wales, Sydney, Adelaide, Kuala Lumpur, Witwatersrand, and in South Africa, Singapore, Auckland, Dunedin, New Zealand, and Sweden. While there he was honored as the Acrel Medalist by the Swedish Surgical Society.

Dr. Henry Harkins was the epitome of the academic surgeon, being at once a spirited teacher, an investigator, a student, a scholar, and an important contributor to the worldwide medical scene. He was loved by his residents, honored by his peers, and respected by all who knew him.