Ernest Sachs, MD (1879-1958) was born in New York City to a family gifted in the arts, steeped in academia, and endowed with wealth. Together with Harvey Cushing, he is regarded as one of the founders of American neurosurgery. His father was a classical scholar and a founder of the Teachers College at Columbia University, his uncle was a neurologist noted for the description of Tay-Sachs disease, and his cousin was professor of fine arts at Harvard University. Sachs himself would learn the cello at the age of six.
Sachs attended the newly founded Johns Hopkins Medical School and graduated with high honors in 1904. Following his medical degree, he spent three years as a house officer at Mount Sinai in New York, before pursuing two additional years of study in Vienna, Berlin, and London. Recruited to Washington University after the reorganization of the School of Medicine, Sachs became the pioneering neurosurgeon west of the Mississippi. In 1919, Sachs was named Professor of Neurological Surgery, the first surgeon in the United States with such an appointment.
Known to be forceful, demanding, and a perfectionist, Sachs developed one of the most outstanding neurosurgical centers in the world at Washington University. Dedicated to the care of his patients, he could be gracious, thoughtful, and even gentle. He would also rightfully earn a fearsome, legendary status, among his many students as being intimidating, caustic, and belligerent. For thirty-five years he held his infamous twelve o'clock clinic for the junior medical students in the Barnes Hospital surgical amphitheater know as "The Pit."
In 1949, Sachs abruptly resigned his emeritus professorship at Washington University to accept a position in retirement at Yale University.