Your Cliff's Notes on Yale School of Medicine

Cushing/Whitney Medical Library

Cushing/Whitney Medical Library

Harvey Cushing ’91, a celebrated neurosurgeon, joined the Yale medical faculty after mandatory retirement from Harvard. View full image


The Yale trustees recognize the "obligation of the University to Medical Education"—and to the funding of medical education—and resolve that the medical school should be developed into "an institution… of the highest type." In the same year, Milton C. Winternitz, the school's first full-time Jewish professor, is appointed its fifth dean. He will stay in office until 1935 and today is generally credited with realizing the trustees' ambition for an outstanding medical school. Winternitz—whom Yale president James R. Angell calls a "steam engine in pants"—will recruit eminent faculty, restructure the curriculum, raise funding, and oversee the design of Sterling Hall of Medicine.

Harvey Cushing '91, a celebrated neurosurgeon, leaves Harvard after reaching mandatory retirement age and joins the Yale medical faculty. He will bequeath Yale two extraordinary collections: his rare medical books and his brain tumor specimens. (Yale has recently established a mini-museum for the tumor collection.)

John F. Fulton, a physiologist and author of a major neurology textbook, invents the lobotomy. Fulton performed the procedure in a lab experiment on chimpanzees, but other neuroscientists will use it to calm human mental patients. In 1951, Fulton estimates that 20,000 patients have been lobotomized. He recommends modifying the procedure to do less damage, but says it is often "indicated and justified." However, the operation becomes increasingly controversial due to its widely varying results, especially after Rosemary Kennedy's family reveals in 1962 that she was permanently institutionalized after a lobotomy.

The first trial of penicillin in the United States takes place at New Haven Hospital (later Yale–New Haven Hospital). When Anne S. Miller, wife of Yale's athletic director, lay dying of an infection, her doctor asked neurologist John Fulton to use his connections with British scientists to get some penicillin. Fulton procured some of the first doses manufactured in the United States. Miller's fever drops and her life is saved.

Two pharmacologists doing classified research on chemical weapons for the military notice that the compound they are studying kills lymph cells and white blood cells faster than other cells. Could these nitrogen mustards, Louis S. Goodman and Alfred Gilman wonder, be used against lymphoma? In tests in mice and a terminally ill cancer patient, the compound successfully shrinks tumors (though the patient's advanced cancer returns). When the war ends and the research is declassified, the new cancer treatment of chemotherapy is introduced to the world.

Pediatrician and psychiatrist Edith B. Jackson creates one of the first "rooming-in" arrangements in a hospital, in which new mothers can have their infants by their beds whenever they want.

For his MD thesis, William H. Sewell Jr. '49MD builds the first prototype of a pump to route a patient's blood around the heart and to the lungs, so as to allow open-heart surgery. He and his adviser use it to conduct successful open-heart surgery on a dog. The prototype, including a motor made with an Erector Set, is now in the Smithsonian.

Researcher Dorothy Horstmann proves that the polio virus reaches the central nervous system via the blood, overturning the accepted theory that the virus grew solely in nerve cells. Horstmann's discovery will be crucial to the development of the polio vaccine. (In 1969, she will become the first woman in the university to receive an endowed professorship.)

Orvan W. Hess and Edward H. Hon, both of the ob-gyn department, design the first device for continually monitoring the fetal heartbeat during labor.

Ob-gyn department chair C. Lee Buxton and the medical director of a local Planned Parenthood clinic test the constitutionality of the Connecticut law against birth control by providing contraceptives to a married couple. After their arrest, they appeal the conviction. The 1965 Supreme Court ruling on the case, Griswold v. Connecticut, will void the state laws against contraception for married couples that were then on the books in some 30 states.

Gynecology professor John McLean Morris and Gertrude van Wagenen, an endocrinologist in the ob-gyn department, develop the "morning after" pill, which prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

Psychiatrist James Comer begins developing the "Comer model" for improving underachieving elementary schools by incorporating ways for schools to address children's developmental and social needs; it is used today in more than a thousand schools in 26 states. (In 1975, he will become the first African American to earn tenure in the medical school as a full professor.)

As part of the U.S. "war on cancer," the National Cancer Institute designates the nation's first eight Comprehensive Cancer Centers, where advanced diagnostic and treatment methods will be developed and demonstrated. Yale is among them.

Professor of medicine Stephen E. Malawista and research fellow Allen C. Steere determine that the cluster of mysterious symptoms affecting children in the area of Lyme, Connecticut, is a tick-borne bacterial infection. They name it Lyme disease.

The FDA approves the first effective new glaucoma treatment since the 1900s, developed by ophthalmologist Marvin L. Sears and still in use today.

Pediatrics professor William V. Tamborlane and professor of medicine Robert S. Sherwin design the first insulin infusion pump for diabetics. The device, an early version of the pumps now used by some 200,000 patients in the United States, provides small doses of insulin continuously around the clock, replacing the difficult process of injecting oneself several times a day—and significantly reducing the bloodstream spikes in insulin and sugar that damage the body over time.

Geneticist Arthur L. Horwich discovers one of the crucial mechanisms involved when proteins in the body fold and misfold. The finding opens new routes for research to prevent or treat Lou Gehrig's disease, Alzheimer's, and other devastating neurodegenerative diseases.

Immunologist Charles Janeway Jr. develops a novel hypothesis to explain how the immune system recognizes intruders. Germs, he suggests, carry ancient molecular patterns that trigger the immune response. His theory and subsequent research trigger a new era of research on the "innate" immune system.

The entering class of medical students is 56 percent female, the first time women have been in the majority.

The FDA approves a new HIV drug developed by pharmacologist William Prusoff and senior research scientist Tai-Shun Lin. The drug, d4T (Zerit), interferes with the virus's ability to replicate in the body. It will become part of the "cocktail" of medicines that revolutionizes HIV treatment.

The school establishes a genetics center, directed by Richard P. Lifton. Over the next decade, medical school researchers will identify genes linked to numerous human diseases—from high blood pressure and kidney disease to dyslexia, macular degeneration, and Tourette's syndrome.

The school receives $57.3 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of 12 grants given nationwide for clinical and "translational" research—aimed at developing laboratory findings into usable treatments for patients.

The Smilow Cancer Hospital, a state-of-the-art cancer care facility, opens, ensuring the future health of many cancer patients. It also ensures Yale's status and federal funding as one of the nation's 40 elite Comprehensive Cancer Centers. A few years earlier, crowded and outmoded clinical care facilities had earned Yale a warning from the National Cancer Institute that it might be removed from the list, and Yale officials had ramped up planning and fund-raising for construction of a new clinic.

Thomas Steitz, a Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, along with his two partners in analyzing the structure of the ribosome, receives the Nobel Prize.

According to the most recent figures, Yale School of Medicine has 2,055 faculty, 100 MD students in the Class of 2014, 18 clinical departments, 11 basic-science departments, and 8 affiliated hospitals. It ranks fifth among medical schools in total NIH grant dollars and first in total NIH grant dollars per faculty member. U.S. News & World Report ranks it sixth among medical schools for research.  

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