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A century of innovation

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2023 (Issue 170) 100 Years of Pediatrics
by Isabella Backman


An exhibit at the Yale Medical Historical Library

Many of the people and significant achievements that have marked the history of the Department of Pediatrics were brought to life in

a wide-ranging exhibit of captivating black-and-white photos and unusual artifacts hosted by the Yale Medical Historical Library. The exhibit, on display last summer, told the story of how a once-tiny department grew into a global leader in the pediatric community.

“We wanted to show how the department has grown, as well as what our faculty have accomplished A century of innovation and the huge breakthroughs in research that happened here,” said Jennifer DeSantis, chief of staff for the Department of Pediatrics. “It also shows that we are not just colleagues, but one big family.”

From the beginning, the department was making history. Four of the original 11 faculty members were women, which was revolutionary at that time. These women included Ethel Dunham, MD, best known for her expertise in the care of premature infants, and her life partner Martha May Eliot, MD, whose work led to the disappearance of rickets— a condition that caused brittle bones in children— in the United States.

As the department grew, it attracted more groundbreaking leaders. In 1949, Edith Banfield Jackson, MD, launched Yale’s Rooming-In Program, an innovation for its time that allowed mothers and babies to be cared for in the same room following birth.

“We really wanted to feature people,” said Kaiulani (Kai) Shulman, the main curator of the exhibit. “Throughout each of the cases, there was at least one significant department member highlighted.”

Not only did Yale bring together some of the country’s most brilliant minds in pediatrics, it also became a powerhouse for innovations that would transform the field. In 1960, Louis Gluck, MD, created the first neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), which held nine incubators. In the late 1970s, William Tamborlane, MD, and the late Robert Sherwin, MD, transformed the treatment of type 1 diabetes by inventing insulin pump therapy.

The exhibit also highlighted Yale Pediatric’s Primary Care Center, which was opened by former pediatric chair Howard Pearson, MD, in 1975. It expanded in 2016 to include its Howard Avenue location, a neighborhood clinic at Yale New Haven Hospital’s Saint Raphael Campus, and Chapel Pediatrics in Hamden, allowing the center to serve more patients. In 2020, the department consolidated all its operations to a new location at 150 Sargent Drive.

“Today, Yale Pediatrics Primary Care Center strives to provide the population with an integrated and embedded behavioral health program in a federally qualified pediatrics health care setting,” the exhibit read. “General Pediatrics at Yale strives to provide care for every aspect of the child from birth until young adulthood and focuses on the family as a unit.”

“The Primary Care Center case was my favorite to create,” said Shulman, who fondly remembers hauling her bag full of collected items for the exhibit on the New Haven bus. “So many department members were instrumental in making this case happen— we collected a copy of Clifford the Big Red Dog, a Denver Developmental Screening Test kit, and even an old reflex hammer. The combination of all these artifacts, generously donated by faculty, created the most vibrant and exciting case.”

DeSantis’ favorite part of the exhibit was the last case, which included a collage of the faces of the pediatrics department today. “We really highlighted our trainees, who are growing into the best pediatricians they can be, and are becoming a part of our family,” she said. The case also included a #BlackLivesMatter painting symbolizing the department’s commitment to fostering an inclusive environment, and a softball trophy representing the tradition of having a pediatric softball team.

“On this 100th anniversary of Yale Pediatrics, we have so much to be proud of!” read a quote in the final case by Clifford Bogue, MD, the Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Pediatrics and chair of pediatrics. “Our department has been innovating in health care for children, training the best and brightest, and making impactful discoveries to further improve the lives of children and their families.”

The exhibit also served as a reminder of the resources that make such achievements possible. “Especially at Yale, we often get desensitized to how amazing this place is and how we have access to such incredible resources,” said Shulman.

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