Pioneers In Plastic Surgery  – Thomas Pomfret Kilner


In the overarching field of medicine, plastic surgery is certainly among the youngest. At least in its current incarnation.

Yes, there were rudimentary plastic surgery procedures performed as far back as ancient Egypt times. But you can bet they didn’t look anything like today’s modern procedures.

It took a group of trail-blazing physicians practicing in the early 1900s to create the foundation for plastic surgery as we know it today. Thomas Pomfret Kilner was among this esteemed group.

Who Was Thomas Pomfret Kilner?

Kilner was born on September 17th in 1890 and was the son of a grammar school master. Always a good student, Kilner would go on to study at Manchester University where he was awarded medals in anatomy and physiology.

By 1912, at the ripe age of 22, he had won distinctions in pathology and surgery. He served as a demonstrator of anatomy from 1912 to 1914 and was a senior house surgeon at Manchester Royal Infirmary.

As he continued his studies and teaching, he had his sights set on joining a doctor in general practice. But World War I changed his trajectory.

Practicing Medicine During WWI

Kilner’s plans shifted when he was enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) where he eventually became a captain. He served four years helping injured men and women and by the end of the war in 1918, he was in charge of an orthopedic unit that specialized in fractured femurs.

Wondering what his next step would be, he was serendipitously advised to meet with Major Harold Gillies about a new hospital unit in Sidcup, England. Gillies was already gaining steam as one of the premier practitioners in a burgeoning specialty known as plastic surgery.

Kilner hadn’t heard of this new modality, but he was interested. And it wasn’t long before he was appointed plastic surgeon to Queen Mary’s Hospital for Face and Jaw Injuries. And while he would later become a consulting plastic surgeon for many hospitals, it took determination and commitment to get there.

Turning Plastic Surgery Into a Thriving Specialty

In 1921, Kilner and Gillies were the only plastic surgeons in the United Kingdom. They were taken by all the promise this new field offered to so many people.

They would visit provincial surgeons who shared this same interest in order to educate them. Over time, their technical know-how and teamwork inspired many other surgeons to shift to this new specialty. And within a decade, he and Gillies had established plastic surgery in the U.K.

In 1931, Kilner was part of the staff of St Andrews’ Hospital where there were two wards and an operating theater devoted wholly to plastic surgery. He worked there up through WWII collaborating with another doctor to perfect the operation for palate repair that was originally designed by Victor Veau. His interest in congenital deformities led him to study speech therapy and he would eventually be elected a Governor of the Central School of Speech Therapy and of Moor House Residential School.

Throughout the second world war, Kilner remained active in fostering plastic surgery. During this time, he developed the Bunyan-Stannard envelope for the treatment of burns. And in 1935, he was a college professor lecturing on the transplantation of skin.

It’s safe to say he made a real difference.

In 1939, only three London teaching hospitals had plastic surgeons on staff. But by the time of Kilner’s death in 1964, there was hardly a teaching hospital in all of the British Isles that didn’t have consultant surgeons in plastic surgery.

See What Plastic Surgery Can Do for You

Today’s plastic surgeons are indebted to pioneers like Thomas Pomfret Kilner who helped to make the field what it is today.

If he could see what a difference a century has made, he’d be thrilled.

So if you’re interested in the myriad ways modern plastic surgery can improve your life, contact us today! You may be pleasantly surprised.