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In praise of Milton Winternitz

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2003 - Winter


I read the article adapted from Dr. Gerard Burrow’s A History of Yale’s School of Medicine: Passing Torches to Others with interest. While I haven’t read his entire book or account of Dean Winternitz’s career at Yale, I take it from this portion [“A Steam Engine in Pants,” Autumn 2002] that he is acknowledging the unique and significant contribution Dean Winternitz made to the school.

While I am greatly relieved to see this, I also wish to add a footnote that I suspect he has omitted in his history.

During my tenure at the School of Medicine from 1984 to 1993, I became aware of the fact that, in spite of Dean Winternitz’s enormously important work on behalf of the school, nothing at Yale is named for him. So, when it was decided to create a special medal to be given to individuals in honor of their contributions to the School of Medicine, I suggested that we create a Winternitz medal.

Burrow was dean then. In vain I argued on behalf of the “Winternitz medal,” because in the end Burrow vetoed this idea, saying that Winternitz was too “controversial.” As a result, the medal now contains the portrait and name of Dr. Peter Parker, an interesting person (and Burrow’s suggestion) but, in my opinion and that of a number of alumni who actually knew Winternitz, not so worthy a person as Winternitz for this recognition.

I have always regretted this oversight, and I continue to hope that one day the Yale School of Medicine will repay the debt it owes Dean Winternitz by naming something of proper stature after him—perhaps, in part, because he dared to be controversial.

Ann Pecora Diamond
New Haven, Conn.

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