At a time when the pace of hiring at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is slowing, the Yale School of Medicine is growing.

The Department of Surgery, in particular, has been expanding rapidly over the past eight years, and has grown from comprising 9 percent of the Yale Medical Group’s clinical activity in 2001 to 16 percent of the clinical activity this year, Department of Surgery Chair Robert Udelsman said. The substantive growth marks a resurgence for the department, which had fallen on hard times in the years before Udelsman was recruited, said David Leffell ’77, the chief executive officer of the Yale Medical Group.

“Under Udelsman, there’s been a huge investment in recruiting world-class surgeons and building up world-class clinical programs,” Leffell said.

Udelsman said he has added 76 new surgeons to the burgeoning department, eight of which were added in the past year alone, since he took over in 2001. Seven more are set to start working this fall.

Udelsman said he has been able to finance the expansion at a time of University-wide belt tightening because the department of surgery is a self-funding organization. As such, as long as he can keep the operation out of the red, he has free range to utilize the resources at his disposal, he explained. (Of the department’s three core missions — teaching, patient care and research — the latter two generate revenue.)

“At the end of the day, I need to cover the bottom line of a large business unit,” he said. “Recruitment’s not difficult — it’s expensive, but it’s not difficult.”

Udelsman added that, while the department cannot survive without its endowment income, it is not as vulnerable to its fluctuations as is the Faculty of Arts and Sciences since it does not use endowment income to cover its daily operating costs.

Lefell said Udelsman took over after the department of surgery had experienced a number of changes in leadership and at a time when its clinical programs needed some work.

There was a need for change, Leffell said, because while the medical school has always been recognized for its teaching and research excellence, its clinical programs historically have not been as strong.

Under Udelsman’s leadership, Yale School of Medicine surgeons have gone from handling about 50 percent of Yale-New Haven Hospital’s surgery cases to about 85 percent, and the department’s geographic reach has extended considerably. Udelsman estimated that international patients represent two to three percent of the department’s clinical volume.

“These are incredibly well known, famous people — I can’t even tell you who they are,” he said. “These patients are incredibly demanding when they come; they come with their sisters or their cousins, and they can shut down your entire department.”

The department of surgery’s expansion is just one component of the ongoing change at the Yale School of Medicine, which has been aggressively recruiting and expanding despite the economic climate — growth fueled in large part by an expanding clinical practice and the successful acquisition of large grants from the National Institutes of Health, Yale School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said. Alpern said faculty hiring at the medical school over the past two years has remained robust and that the school has utilized the recession to land recruits that otherwise would not have been possible.

The Yale Medical Group consists of all full-time, clinically active members of the Yale School of Medicine faculty. In total, there are 800 such faculty, whose clinical activity is equivalent to that of 350 full-time medical practitioners, Leffell said.