“He Set a High Bar” – Columbia Neurosurgery Transformed Under Dr. Robert Solomon’s Hand

November 30, 2020

Much has changed in the world and in the field of neurosurgery since 1997, but one thing remained constant: Robert A. Solomon, MD, FACS, at the helm of Columbia’s prestigious Department of Neurological Surgery. Though he will continue to contribute to patient care, teaching, and research at Columbia, Dr. Solomon has stepped down as chair after nearly 23 years leading the world-renowned department.

Photo of doctor robert solomon presenting a case

“Dr. Solomon is the type of chair that we all aspire to become – a superlative clinician, an innovative pioneer, an intellectual powerhouse, a clinician-scientist, and a leader by example,” said George A. “Jack” Cioffi, MD, president of ColumbiaDoctors. “His expertise in the treatment of cerebral aneurysms and AV malformations not only saved countless lives, but also taught neurosurgeons around the world. On behalf of the entirety of CUIMC, we congratulate and thank Bob for all he has done.”

Dr. Solomon is succeeded by E. Sander Connolly Jr., MD, FACS.

“The department is in great hands with the appointment of Dr. Connolly as the next chair,” Dr. Solomon said. “He needs to plan for the future and the rapidly evolving and exciting field that neurosurgery has become.”

Dr. Solomon has been an indispensable member of the Columbia community since joining as a neurological surgery resident in 1980. He had fallen in love with the specialty while studying at Johns Hopkins.

“Once I got neurosurgery in my blood, I couldn’t get rid of it,” Dr. Solomon recalled in a 2018 profile. “As I got further in medical school, I compared everything with neurosurgery, and nothing really even came close. It was clear to me that that was what I wanted to do.”

As his career grew, Dr. Solomon was understood as a pioneer in neurosurgery, revered for his skill in the use of hypothermic arrest to treat giant cerebral aneurysms and his aggressive approach for the acute management of ruptured intracranial aneurysms became the universal standard of care. In September 1997, Solomon, 43 at the time, was selected to chair the department that the retiring Dr. Bennett Stein had transformed.

Photo of last three neurosurgery chairs
The last three chairs of the Department of Neurological Surgery, from left to right, E. Sander Connolly Jr., MD; Bennett M. Stein, MD; Robert A. Solomon, MD.

In the years that followed, Columbia Neurosurgery grew into a regional network with 24 neurosurgeons and practices in Manhattan, New Jersey, and Westchester. The department added six new endowed professorship chairs and three endowed fellowships. At its peak, the department was sixth in the nation for NIH research support, ranked second in US News and World Report’s Best Hospitals, and fourth in national reputation for its residency program.

“My most memorable moment as chair was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Neurological Institute at a black-tie event downtown in 2009,” Dr. Solomon said. “Sharing the moment with the Neurology Department, I realized what an honor it was to be chair as we recognized the long and great history of this famous institution.”

For the incoming chair, Dr. Solomon’s leadership style will continue to be an inspiration and guiding light. “He set a high bar,” according to Dr. Connolly.

Photo of doctor sander connolly and doctor robert solomon
E. Sander Connolly, Jr., MD and Robert A. Solomon, MD

“The fact that we all felt when a task was accomplished that we had done it ourselves was a real testament not only to his effectiveness but how much he cared for everyone on the team,” Dr. Connolly said. “Perhaps his greatest gift was the daily example over the past 22 years of consistent purpose, unassailable ethics, steadfast principles, tireless motivation, and unquestionable conduct.”


Credit: CUIMC Communications Team