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A History of the University of Iowa Department of Neurology

The Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine’s Neurology Department, founded in 1919, was one of the first academic departments of neurology in the country, and the first to be established west of the Mississippi River.  Its residency program one of the first to be accredited in the 1920s.  It originally lived in the first university hospital (shown above), which later became known as Seashore Hall.


Department Heads

When it was established in 1919, Clarence Van Epps became the first professor and head.

Dr. Clarence Van Epps

Dr. Van Epps received medical degrees from the University of Iowa (1897) and University of Pennsylvania (1898) and had obtained additional training in Philadelphia and Vienna.  In 1928, under Van Epps' guidance, the Department moved from its original location in what is now Seashore Hall to the University Hospitals. Upon Dr. Van Epps' retirement in 1945, one of his trainees, Adolph Sahs, was named head in 1948.

Dr. Adolph Sahs

More than fifty neurologists were trained under his tutelage.  His personal devotion to patient care left lasting impressions on his students, and his teaching extended beyond the bedside and lecture hall to include two revisions of Grinker's Neurology in 1960 and 1966.  Dr. Sahs gained international recognition as an expert in cerebrovascular disease.  Clinical research related to intracranial aneurysms was given special emphasis, and Sahs organized one of the first multi-center NIH clinical trials in this area of investigation.  Sahs, along with Baker, Forster and DeJong - the group was known as "the four horsemen of neurology" - were key figures in the establishment of the American Academy of Neurology, of which Sahs served as president in 1961.  Dr. Sahs also served as president of both the American Neurological Association in 1967-1968 and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in 1967.

Dr. Arthur Benton

During Sahs' tenure, Maurice Van Allen and Arthur Benton established the Neurosensory Center, which became an important stimulus for future endeavors in neurological research.  At Dr. Sahs' retirement in 1974, Van Allen became the third head of the Department.

Dr. Maurice Van Allen

Dr. Van Allen brought his unique clinical insights from both neurosurgery and neurology, and the department grew rapidly.  Several highly-qualified physicians and researchers were attracted to the Department during his tenure (including Antonio R. Damasio).  Shortly after Dr. Van Allen's retirement in 1985, Dr. Antonio R. Damasio was appointed as the Department's fourth head.

Dr. Antonio Damasio

Dr. Damasio studied medicine at the University of Lisbon Medical School, where he also did his neurological residency and completed his doctorate. For part of his studies he researched behavioral neurology under the supervision of the Norman Geschwind of the Aphasia Research Center in Boston.  Dr. Damasio formulated the somatic marker hypothesis, a theory about how emotions and their biological underpinnings are involved in decision-making.  The research depended significantly on establishing the modern human lesion method, an enterprise made possible by Hanna Damasio's structural neuroimaging/neuroanatomy work complemented by experimental neuropsychology (with Antoine Bechara, Ralph Adolphs, and Daniel Tranel).

Dr. Robert Rodnitzky

In 2005, Dr. Robert Rodnitzky served as acting chief and was then appointed as the department's 5th head from 2007 to 2010.  As a movement disorders specialist, Dr. Rodnitzky helped translate developmental drugs into treatments that are used to treat disorders such as Parkinson's Disease.  His dedication helped turn the movement disorders clinic into one of the best in the country.  In 2010 the Department appointed Dr. George Richerson as the 6th head. 

Dr. Richerson has continued the tradition of leadership by bringing together top minds to understand and treat complex disorders of the nervous system.  He established the department as a collaborative leader in epilepsy, neurogenetic, and neuromuscular research.  Dr. Richerson has also helped create partnerships with other hospitals, and continues to explore frontiers, both old and new, in the field of Neurology.


Significant Accomplishments 

  • Thirteen former faculty and/or trainees of the department have gone on to chair academic neurology departments and an additional nine have become neurology residency program directors.
  • Jun Kimura, MD, a major international figure in the development of electrophysiology and EMG/NCV interpretation, was the President of the World Federation of Neurology from 2002-2005.
  • William Talman, MD, one of the world’s authorities on normal function and diseases of the autonomic nervous system, was President of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology  (FASEB) from 2010-2011.
  • Two former residents have been presidents of the world's two largest neurological professional organizations, the American Academy of Neurology and the American Neurological Association (Drs. Adolph Sahs and Robert Joynt).
  • Two former residents (Drs. Bradley Hyman and Pedro Gonzalez-Alegre) and a current faculty member (Dr. Kumar Narayanan) have been recipients of the prestigious American Academy of Neurology annual S. Weir Mitchell Award for outstanding research while a Neurology trainee.
  • Department members played key roles in the development of the NIH Stroke Scale, completion of the first NIH-funded clinical trial in the field of stroke research, development of novel psychological techniques to assess neurologically compromised patients, and many other advances in clinical neurology.
  • The Neurology Residency Program has been ranked in the top 20 for the number of trainees that have gone on to careers as faculty members in academic neurology departments, and the top 10 for number of citations of their publications (Campbell et al, Arch Neurol, 2011).

Historical Photographs and Paintings

Department photo 1964



Adolph Sahs


Clarence Van Epps


Department photo 1978