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The medical school’s first full-time dean

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2011 - Spring


Vernon Lippard served three terms as dean, steering the medical school through growth in its physical plant and an explosion in research funding.

Until the middle of the 20th century, the School of Medicine’s department chairs were expected to serve as deans, juggling their decanal responsibilities in addition to their other work. When Dean C.N.H. Long, M.D., stepped down in 1952, the deanship became a full-time position, and the Yale Corporation hired Vernon W. Lippard, M.D. ’29, who had served as dean of two other medical schools.

Lippard applied to the School of Medicine in 1925, after only three years at Yale College. Four years later he left the school with an M.D. cum laude. He had been a student editor of the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, which began publication during his last year of medical school. After a period in private practice as a pediatrician, Lippard became an assistant dean of Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1939. During World War II he served in the U.S. Army with the 9th General Hospital in the Pacific Theater of Operations, returning to Columbia in 1945. In 1946 he became dean of Louisiana State University School of Medicine. Yale hired him away from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, where he had been serving as dean since 1949.

At Yale, Lippard quickly focused on a number of challenges—a deteriorating physical plant, an ill-defined relationship with Grace-New Haven Hospital, deficiencies in the clinical departments, an undernourished Department of Public Health, and a need for increased financial support for operations.

Lippard’s tenure happily coincided with an explosion in federal funding for biomedical research. The dean also possessed a knack for fundraising. In 1953, he secured a grant to build a new dormitory—Edward S. Harkness Memorial Hall was completed in 1955—and funding for the Mary S. Harkness Memorial Auditorium, the first large-capacity space at the medical school, with 449 seats. The dean oversaw an addition to Sterling Hall of Medicine; he also renovated or built new laboratory space for the departments of pharmacology, epidemiology, internal medicine, pediatrics, and radiology. The Department of Public Health celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1965 with a new home, the nine-story Laboratory of Epidemiology and Public Health. The Connecticut Mental Health Center, a cooperative endeavor between Yale and the state, opened in 1966. With the exception of Dean Milton C. Winternitz, M.D., no previous dean had embarked on such extensive expansion of the physical plant.

Committed to building Yale’s clinical departments, Lippard increased the full-time faculty from about 195 members in 1952 to 520 in 1967 with an additional 560 part-time appointments. Many departments were reorganized, including the new Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, which combined public health with the Section of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine under one chair in 1961. Federal grant money pouring into the School of Medicine at this time to fund research helped spur this huge growth. The school’s annual operating budget grew from nearly $3 million in 1952 to over $16 million in 1967; the endowment doubled as well.

Lippard streamlined management of the medical school by centralizing authority within the dean’s office. He hired two half-time assistant deans: Thomas R. Forbes, Ph.D., as assistant dean for student affairs and chair of admissions; and Lippard’s former colleague from the University of Virginia, Arthur Ebbert Jr., M.D., as assistant dean of postgraduate medical education.

Lippard steered the medical school through another agreement with the hospital, creating the Yale-New Haven Medical Center in 1965. The agreement gave Yale more say in administering the hospital and changed the institution’s name to Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Lippard maintained a high profile working on medical issues at the national level. After serving as president of the American Association of Medical Colleges in 1954–55, he was a member of the Surgeon General’s Consultant Committee on Medical Education, which published a report in 1959 on the growing shortage of physicians in the United States. As a member of the National Committee on Health Services for the Aged, Lippard was involved in the early development of the Medicare program. When he left the School of Medicine in 1967 after three terms as dean, he was appointed assistant for medical development to the president and fellows of the Yale Corporation. He died in 1985.

This article has been adapted from Medicine at Yale: The First 200 Years, a book by Kerry Falvey celebrating the bicentennial of the Yale School of Medicine.

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