Coming of age

Abraham Flexner revolutionized American medicine with his 1910 report to the Carnegie Foundation, in which he identified Yale and Harvard as the only two medical schools in New England worth preserving. Influenced by Flexner’s report, the Yale Corporation redoubled its support of the medical school and formalized its relationship with New Haven Hospital as the school’s primary teaching hospital.

Credit: Cushing/Whitney Medical Library

Milton C. Winternitz, MD, who served as dean from 1920 to 1935, was the architect of the school’s unique educational philosophy, the Yale system of medical education, which emphasizes critical thinking in a nongraded, noncompetitive environment and requires students to write a thesis based on original research.

The medical school grew rapidly in the post-World War II era, fueled by a surge in federal investments in science and medicine. The school’s fulltime faculty grew from less than 100 in 1950 to more than 2,000 today, including more than 500 research scientists.

Yale’s historical contributions to medicine include the first X-ray published in the United States (a non-clinical study by physicist Arthur Wright), the first successful use of penicillin in America, the development and first use of cancer chemotherapy, and the introduction of continuous electronic fetal heart monitoring, as well as early adoption of natural childbirth and newborn rooming-in. Yale doctors designed the first artificial heart pump prototype and the first insulin infusion pump for diabetes. Yale researchers established the means of transmission of the polio virus, paving the way for the Salk vaccine and, in 1975, Lyme disease was identified by two Yale physicians.

Louise Farnam (Credit: Yale University Manuscripts and Archives)

Recent milestones include the first transgenic mouse; discovery of a mechanism of protein folding, which is key to understanding neurodegenerative diseases; and discovery of the mechanism of innate immunity, with major implications for infectious disease and cancer. Yale scientists identified the genes associated with hypertension, macular degeneration, dyslexia, Crohn’s disease, polycystic kidney disease, and Tourette’s syndrome.

Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Creed, in 1857, became the first African American student to receive a Yale MD. Today, Asian American, African American, and Hispanic/Latino students comprise 40 percent of the student body. In 1916, Louise Farnam, Helen May Scoville and Lillian Lydia Nye became the school’s first female students. Today, half the student body is made up of women.