The Syrian Protestant College (SPC) was established in 1866 while the School of Medicine was founded the following year by Drs. George Post, Cornelius Van Dyck and John Wortabet. An "affiliation" agreement signed with the Prussian Hospital in 1871 sanctioned the SPC’s use of the hospital, built in the early 1860s by the Knights of the Order of St. John, for clinical teaching. The American professors of the SPC took on medical care in the hospital until 1917 when the USA declared war on Germany. Following Germany’s defeat in 1918, the French authorities turned the Prussian Hospital into a military hospital, the "Hopital Militaire Maurice Rottier". In parallel, the Regents of the University of the State of New York amended the charter of the Syrian Protestant College (SPC) in 1920, to become the American University of Beirut (AUB), while the Rockefeller Foundation funded the building of several units of the hospital composed of three pavilions. The current AUB Medical Center was inaugurated on June 26, 1970.
The Department of Surgery, established and chaired by Dr. George E. Post in 1867, is the first Academic Surgical Department established in the Middle East. In 1869, Dr. Post became the first Professor of Surgery at the SPC and participated in introducing aseptic surgery to Lebanon. He served the community for the following 40 years until his death in 1909.
Dr. Post was succeeded by Dr. Edwin St. John Ward who later became Dean of the School of Medicine, modernizing it, creating basic science departments, and appointing fulltime teaching faculty.
Dr. Ward was followed by Dr. William D. Cruikshank (1924 -1938).
In 1941, Dr. Sami I. Haddad became the fourth Chairman of the department and the first of local descent. He served till 1946 when Dr. Joseph McDonald was recruited as Chairman of the Department of Surgery and introduced the novel concept of residency training to replace the antiquated tutorship. In 1950, Dr. McDonald took a leave of absence from AUB to act as Professor of Surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. During his absence, Dr. William D. Shorey assumed the chairmanship of the department. Dr. McDonald returned in 1953 as Dean of the School of Medicine and appointed Dr. John L. Wilson as Chairman of the department. The latter chaired the department for 15 years, during the last three of which he also acted as Dean of the School of Medicine, and was instrumental in the design and building of the present hospital and medical center. However, it was during the chairmanship of Dr. Timothy S. Harrison (1968-1971) that the hospital and school were moved to their present location.
The years of civil war that followed took their toll on the department in the form of exodus of faculty and loss of accreditation by the American Board of Surgery among others. The chairmen who succeeded Dr. Harrison and the faculty who remained behind during the 20 years of war kept the department afloat despite hard times and unfavorable conditions.
Following the end of the civil war, several chairmen and faculty members were recruited to rebuild the Department of Surgery, with the current chair, Dr. Jamal Hoballah, recruited in July 2008.The divisions of the Department of Surgery were formed gradually starting in 1947 and developed progressively over several years.