ROBERT J. DEMPSEY was born May 30,1951 in Chicago, Illinois, the second of five children of Donald and Eileen Dempsey. He attended parochial schools in the Chicago area and graduated from the University of Notre Dame, summa cum laude in 1973, where he also ran track and cross-country.
He received his medical degree from the University of Chicago in 1977, where he was first exposed to academic research, both in the bench laboratory and the clinical field. Working on the biochemistry of diseases of the nervous system became a lifelong interest after the training received at the University of Chicago. The influence of Dr. Sean Mullen was important in his decision to pursue a career in neurological surgery. Dr. Dempsey entered into a neurosurgery residency program at the University of Michigan under the training of Dr. Richard Schneider, Dr. Glen Kindt, and Dr. Julian T. Hoff. He completed his residency with a growing appreciation of the importance of the correlation of basic science research with the clinical problems of neurological surgery. A particular interest in cerebral blood flow, cerebral ischemia, and ischemic brain edema was generated during these training years.
In 1983, he joined the faculty at the University of Kentucky where he established a cerebrovascular practice in neurosurgery, as well as extensive clinical and basic science research programs, reflecting an interest in ischemic brain edema, the cause and treatment of atherosclerosis in carotid arteries, and the biochemical events after brain injury. Dr. Dempsey became Founding Director of the Center of Excellence in Stroke Research of the Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky, and President of the Kentucky Neurosurgical Society, as well as Medical Director of the Cerebrovascular Laboratory. During this time, he was awarded the University of Kentucky Faculty Research Award, as well as the Master Teacher Award from the University of Kentucky School of Medicine.
In 1995, Dr. Dempsey assumed the position as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he also founded the Multidisciplinary Stroke Program, Chair of the Council of Clinical Chairs, and has established the cerebrovascular research laboratories. In 1998, he became the first Manucher J. Javid Endowed Professor in Neurological Surgery. He serves on numerous societies, committees, and review organizations including the Executive Committees of the Stroke Council of the American Heart Association, the Joint Section of Cerebrovascular Surgery of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and The Congress of Neurological Surgeons, The Society of Neurological Surgery, The Research Updates in Neurosciences for Neurosurgeons, and the Foundation for International Education in Neurological Surgery. His research efforts continue at this time, including active research directions in neuroplasticity after transient cerebral ischemia, the causes of symptomatic carotid embolization and the molecular events influencing outcome after cerebral ischemia. These have been NIH funded for almost 30 years. He has been active in teaching and mentoring nationally and internationally. He has delivered the Peardon Donaghy lecture to the AANS and the Alfred Luessenhop lecture to the Joint Cerebrovascular Section of the AANS/CNS. He has received the AANS Humanitarian Award and the University of Wisconsin Medical Alumni Award for Clinical Teaching, as well as multiple awards for student teaching. He has been honored by the Joint Section, which has named the annual resident research grant in his name, the “Robert J Dempsey, MD Cerebrovascular Research Award”.
He is married to wife Diane, an aquatic biologist, and they have two children: Kara Eileen and Conor Patrick. The entire family has participated with his work in medical teaching in Central and South America and Africa, specifically in the organization and teaching program, Medical Mission-Ecuador. He remains active through FIENS in the establishment and maintenance of neurosurgical training programs in the developing world, especially the program in East Africa. He was elected to the position of President of the Society of Neurological Surgeons for 2009-2010.