Nathaniel R. Hollister
1953, New Orleans
Nathaniel Roger Hollister was born on May 18, 1915. He was the third son of Robert R. Hollister, M.D. and Susan Holdredge. Dr. Hollister stood in considerable awe of his physician father and seldom directly opposed his wishes. His father discouraged medicine as a career and he recommended that his three sons do something together as a team. Dr. Hollister's two older brothers were scholastic achievers and feeling he was not, Dr. Hollister did not relish life in the shadow of his two older brothers. He attended Antioch College and requested that his Antioch cooperative job be in New York City. He was willing to take any job in New York City and subsequently found himself at the New York Hospital-Cornell University Medical Center. That job convinced Nathaniel Hollister that he wanted to be a physician. He enrolled in and graduated from the University of Nebraska School of Medicine. Postgraduate training was obtained at the Boston City Hospital. He became very interested in neurological surgery and started his training at the Massachusetts General Hospital and then had two additional years of training with Dr. Jefferson Browder at the Kings County Hospital.
Dr. Hollister served as a neurosurgeon during World War II and had the incredible experience of "cleaning up" one of the notorious concentration camps. After he was discharged from military service, Dr. Hollister became a staff neurosurgeon at the Oschner Clinic. He later entered private practice in Dayton, Ohio. There were no neurologists in Dayton, so Dr. Hollister practiced both neurology and neurosurgery. The Dayton area served 500,000 people so he was quite busy. Dr. Hollister desperately wanted a neurosurgical organization to relieve the isolation of private practice and to promote the education of and contact between neurosurgeons. Nathaniel Hollister, Bland Cannon, Elmer Schultz, Jim Gay, Don Sweeney, and Hank Svien wrote letters to all the young neurosurgeons that they knew who had entered practice after the conclusion of World War II. Dr. Hollister was one of 22 men who gathered in St. Louis on May 11, 1951 to found the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.
Dr. Hollister became president of the Congress in 1953 when the meeting was
held in New Orleans.
Dr. Hollister remembers well the last presentation of the honored guest at the 1953 meeting, Sir Geoffrey Jefferson. He recalled that Sir Geoffrey Jefferson concluded his last presentation with a few off-the-cuff remarks. These were, "Of course you know that, really, the glamour has gone out of neurosurgery. You boys aren't where you were. The heart people have stolen it from you. Well, my answer to that is if any branch of surgery is doing work which is in any way comparable to our own, we welcome that development. We have grown up and in time they will do so, too." Dr. Hollister has been thinking about that quote ever since.
Dr. Hollister became very interested in pain and noted that even though neurological surgeons could technically attack the pain paradox, the results were frequently not satisfactory. Dr. Hollister felt that in order to deal more adequately with complicated pain problems he needed additional training. He had been previously Board certified in neurological surgery and with additional training he became Board certified in neurology and psychiatry. Dr. Hollister established the Boston Pain Unit in 1972 and felt that was one of his more gratifying accomplishments. He demonstrated that chronic pain suffering is a "learned behavior" that can be changed.