In January 1824, the body of a 19-year-old fever victim vanished from her burial site in West Haven. The young woman’s outraged family knew immediately where to look and headed for the corner of Grove and Prospect streets in New Haven, then home to Yale’s medical school. Indeed, the West Haven constable who led the search soon found the body hidden under paving stones in the basement. The furor grew, and soon some 600 people armed with pistols and daggers were storming the campus, demanding punishment for the perpetrator, a student who had purloined the body to study anatomy. The Governor’s Foot Guard had to quell the riot.
The relationships between the School of Medicine and New Haven have always been complex, surpassing the standard town-gown rivalries. While the city has benefited from a world-class medical center, it has also viewed the school with mistrust. Too often, people in the community felt that they were seen as guinea pigs for research and nothing more.
That changed some years ago as medical researchers recognized that promoting good health meant looking beyond the details in a patient’s chart. The social determinants of health—where we live, whether we’re poor or well-off, our access to health care, the stressors in our lives—all play a role in our well-being. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program acted on that understanding by partnering with New Haven communities to find out which issues were important to them and what research needed to be done.
In this issue of Yale Medicine, we take a look at the myriad ways in which the presence of the School of Medicine affects the larger New Haven community, from taking care of patients and examining the impact of gun violence to promoting the city as a hub of biotech research.