Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Endowed Professorships

The William F. Norris and George E. de Schweinitz Professorship of Ophthalmology

The Professorship was established in 1945 under the terms of the will of George E. de Schweinitz, MD (1858–1938) to honor his colleague, William Fisher Norris, MD (1838–1901), an esteemed pioneer in the field of ophthalmology. Both were graduates of the Perelman School of Medicine, Dr. Norris in 1861 and Dr. de Schweinitz in 1881.

Dr. Norris served with distinction as a surgeon for the U.S. Army during the Civil War. In 1873, Dr. Norris joined the staff of the Perelman School of Medicine as Clinical Professor of Diseases of the Eye and is credited with founding and developing the School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology, serving as its chairman until 1901. In addition to many journal publications, he was the author of one of the first nationally recognized textbooks in ophthalmology and edited the four-volume System of Diseases of the Eye.

In 1902, Dr. de Schweinitz succeeded Dr. Norris as Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology, remaining in that capacity until 1929 when he became Professor Emeritus. Before specializing in ophthalmology, he practiced at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and was Prosector of Anatomy for Joseph Leidy, MD. During World War I, Dr. de Schweinitz was appointed to the Council of Defense as Major and, in 1922, became Brigadier General in the Medical Reserve Corps. He often treated President Woodrow Wilson.

Current Chairholder:
Joan M. O’Brien, MD

Joan M. O’Brien, MD, Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Perelman School of Medicine, specializes in the treatment of ocular tumors. Her laboratory has over 20 years of experience studying ocular disease genetics. Dr. O’Brien and colleagues discovered two oncogenes in ocular melanoma and identified numerous pathogenic variants in the retinoblastoma gene. These findings have allowed for the development of targeted therapies and the genetic testing and prolongation of life for patients. Today, Dr. O’Brien is the Principal Investigator on the largest-ever study of glaucoma genetics in African Americans.

Dr. O’Brien received her medical degree from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in 1986. She completed an internship in internal medicine at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston in 1987, followed by research fellowships in immunology and ophthalmic pathology. Dr. O’Brien subsequently completed a residency in ophthalmology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and a fellowship in ocular oncology at the UCSF.

Previous Chairholders:

Harold B. Scheie, MD 1960–1975 Stuart L. Fine, MD 1991–2009
Myron Yanoff, MD 1977–1986