Two Centuries and Counting

Dean Robert Alpern: 333 Cedar Street

333 Cedar Street is a letter from Dean Robert J. Alpern, MD, Ensign Professor of Medicine, on topics of interest to the Yale School of Medicine community. Write to Dean Alpern at 333cedar@yale.edu.

The School of Medicine plans a symposium, concert, and a year of special events in celebration of its Bicentennial, along with a book and film about YSM's first 200 years.

William H. Welch, M.D., was a Yale College alumnus who went on to become the first dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. In 1934, reflecting upon the rapid ascent of the Yale School of Medicine during the previous three decades, he wrote:

There is nothing in modern medical education so remarkable as the recent transformation of the Yale School of Medicine from the old type into a modern medical school. The process has taken place with incredible rapidity and it has been complete. The Yale School of Medicine now ranks with the best in the country.

As was the case with many American medical schools at the beginning of the 20th century, Yale School of Medicine’s future was far from assured at the time of its centennial in 1910. However, it was one of only two New England schools that Abraham Flexner deemed worthy of continued investment in his landmark report on medical education that same year, and Yale energetically advanced on all fronts during the years following the Flexner report. The 1920s and ’30s saw a tremendous burst of innovation and growth under the leadership of Dean Milton C. Winternitz, M.D., and its trajectory since then has been ever upward.

This year, as the School of Medicine enters its third century, it has achieved even greater heights. It ranks fifth among medical schools receiving funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and first in NIH dollars per faculty member. More than 4,300 applicants competed for 100 places in this year’s entering class. The school is a scientific powerhouse of tremendous depth and breadth, with more than 1,200 ladder faculty members conducting basic and clinical research, teaching, and/or seeing patients—many of them doing all three. It is a clinical center with capabilities far beyond anything Dr. Welch might have imagined in the early 20th century, delivering care to tens of thousands of patients each year, performing advanced procedures, and managing complex diseases. And it retains a unique position in medical education, drawing on the same Yale System that helped transform the school nearly a century ago and produce leaders in American medicine and biomedical research.

Transformation—the phenomenon that Dr. Welch witnessed—has been a hallmark of medicine at Yale numerous times since its founding, following an Act of the Connecticut Legislature in October 1810. We will celebrate this history, as well as our present and future, during the 2010–2011 academic year that begins with the White Coat Ceremony on August 19. Following are details of the year-long Bicentennial observance, which will be updated regularly on the medical school’s newly launched Bicentennial website, at http://medicine.yale.edu/ysm200:

  • A commemorative book, Medicine at Yale: The First 200 Years, by Kerry L. Falvey, will be published in November in association with Yale University Press. Included are the stories of the school’s early partnership with the Connecticut Medical Society, its founding faculty, and the climate in which medicine was practiced in Connecticut in 1810. The book traces the school’s history into the present day and includes essays by Thomas P. Duffy, M.D., professor of medicine and director of the Program for the Humanities in Medicine; surgeon and alumnus Sherwin Nuland, M.D., the author of How We Die; and John Harley Warner, Ph.D., chair and Avalon Professor of the History of Medicine. It concludes with a series of commentaries on the future of medicine by five of our faculty: Richard Belitsky, M.D., deputy dean and Harold W. Jockers Associate Professor of Medical Education; Harlan M. Krumholz, M.D., M.S., Harold H. Hines Jr. Professor of Medicine and professor of epidemiology and public health; Richard P. Lifton, M.D., Ph.D., chair and Sterling Professor of Genetics and professor of medicine; James E. Rothman, Ph.D., chair and Fergus F. Wallace Professor of Cell Biology and professor of chemistry; and Mary E. Tinetti, M.D ., Gladys Phillips Crofoot Professor of Medicine and professor of epidemiology and public health. For more information, see the Yale University press website at http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300167306. (A 25 percent discount is being offered on pre-orders received by October 31.)
  • New Haven filmmaker Karyl Evans has been interviewing faculty and students and capturing footage on campus for a documentary about the school, scheduled for release in October. Ms. Evans is recipient of five Emmy awards for her work on public television. Her film about YSM will be screened on campus and be made available online; details will be posted on the Bicentennial website.
  • Another documentary project is planned for Yale Medicine magazine in the style of the “Day in the Life” books published in the 1980s and 1990s. Managing Editor John Curtis is deploying a small army of photographers on campus during a week in September and will be picking the best of those images to convey the vitality of YSM and full panoply of activities that take place at the school on a day-to-day basis. Those pictures will fill the winter issue of Yale Medicine in late January.
  • Signature departmental lectures and other events will take place throughout the year. These include the inaugural Mila Rainof lecture in the Section of Organ Transplantation, the Frederic L. Holmes Lecture in the Section of the History of Medicine, and the Joseph B. Warshaw Developmental Biology Symposium in the Department of Pediatrics. The Department of Internal Medicine has scheduled a series of talks by experts in fields pioneered at Yale, examining the department’s contributions to medicine and discussing the current state of research in those areas. Other departments are planning lecture series with similar themes. To add your department’s Bicentennial activities to the calendar, select the "Bicentennial Events" calendar when posting an event through the main School of Medicine Calendar at http://medicine.yale.edu/calendar/ or visit http://medicine.yale.edu/ysm200/news/allevents.aspx or contact Michael Fitzsousa in the Office of Institutional Planning and Communications.
  • Community Day, October 16. Cedar Street will be closed to traffic and a mammoth birthday cake will be served to students, faculty, staff, their families, and our neighbors. The day will include fun activities for children and adults, exhibits, tours, and community “grand rounds” and medical demonstrations on topics ranging from tissue engineering and super-resolution microscopy to the latest in diabetes research.
  • Symphony performance, December 10. The Yale Medical Symphony Orchestra will perform a special musical work created for the occasion by Thomas C. Duffy of the School of Music faculty.
  • The keynote event for the year will be a symposium celebrating the biomedical sciences, to be held on April 28-29, 2011. Participants will include some of the world’s preeminent biomedical scientists and scholars. Details of the program will be shared at a later date.
  • Alumni Reunion Weekend, June 3-5. A special program will be announced in early spring 2011.

This special year is an occasion to reflect on the past and, more importantly, to celebrate the current vitality of the school and extend that spirit into the future. Whether you are an alumnus or an alumna, a student, a member of the faculty or staff, or a friend of the school, I hope you will take the opportunity to participate in the year’s events. Much of the observance is being heralded online as well, so please be sure to visit http://medicine.yale.edu/ysm200 for the latest information and archival material. In the meantime, best wishes from New Haven.