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Newspaper heralds a new day in medical education—almost two centuries ago

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2004 - Spring


Stop at medical grand rounds on any given Thursday morning and you’re likely to encounter Samuel D. Kushlan, M.D. ’35, HS ’37, a retired gastroenterologist who has served on the faculty for 65 years and who turned 92 in February. Kushlan graduated from Yale College in 1932 and from the School of Medicine three years later, and his view of the school’s history is a long one.

Kushlan’s appreciation of the medical school’s earliest days recently grew larger, however, when he was given a copy of a 19th-century newspaper documenting the school’s establishment by an act of the Connecticut legislature. The slightly yellowed but well-preserved copy of the Connecticut Mirror, from November 5, 1810, includes the text of the act creating the Medical Institution of Yale College. The new school was the joint responsibility of Yale College and the Connecticut Medical Society, which today has its headquarters on St. Ronan Street in New Haven.

Yale’s first medical students could expect to draw on the expertise of an initial faculty of four and core facilities consisting of “a Cabinet of anatomical preparations,” “a collection of specimens, in the Materia Medica” and a botanical garden to be planted “as soon as the funds of the college can afford such establishment.” Medical students who had finished college were required to study medicine for two years before entering the profession; those who hadn’t would spend three years in class. In addition to attending lectures, the students were expected to apprentice under a local physician or surgeon in good standing.

Kushlan came upon the newspaper through the good graces of Richard Lodish, principal of the lower school at Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C., where Kushlan’s granddaughter chairs the school’s parents’ organization. A collector of education memorabilia, Lodish thought of Kushlan when he saw the copy of the Mirror advertised on the Internet. Lodish has another New Haven connection: his daughter, Maya B. Lodish, M.D. ’03, received her medical degree from Yale last May and is now a resident in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins.

While some early features of academic medicine remain unchanged (the act describes in detail the responsibilities of various committees, for example), recent graduates will be amused and possibly dismayed by one provision of the 1810 legislation noted below its description of the curriculum: “The price of the ticket for the whole of the above courses of lectures shall be fifty dollars,” the act stated. But students had other expenses to take into account as well. Before passing their exams, they were required to pay $10 to the treasurer of the medical society, $4 to each of their examiners and $8 to the president of the university. Full freight is likely to be a great deal more when the medical school marks its 200th anniversary six years from now.

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