The Yale School of Medicine is celebrating its 200th birthday this weekend, making it the sixth oldest medical school in the nation.
After two centuries of medical education, the School of Medicine has grown quickly from a small school devoted to anatomy and chemistry to one of the world’s leading medical institutions. The School of Medicine has seen the addition of eight buildings in the past 50 years and a three-fold increase in annual admissions, and is now looking to improve its clinical practice. While administrators boast the strength of the medical school’s no-grade policy, diverse curriculum and excellence in research, students said they came to Yale for its atmosphere and reputation.
“The medical school went from a good institution to a nationally prominent institution in about 35 years,” Kerry Falvey, the chief of staff in the Yale School of Medicine dean’s office, said.
The School of Medicine will celebrate this prominence at its bicentennial Saturday with a series of academic presentations, children’s activities and a health fair. Culminating with speeches by medical school Dean Robert Alpern, Mayor John DeStefano and CEO of Yale-New Haven Hospital Marna Borgstrom on Cedar Street, the festivities will reflect on the historical collaboration between the medical school, the University and the hospital.
In its inaugural year, 1813, the School of Medicine’s curriculum emphasized rudimentary anatomy and chemistry, said Falvey. But the medical school’s educational focus began to expand when, later in the 19th century, Connecticut doctors started to receive international training and began to apply the European trend of clinical practice and research to their teachings.
“We were really ahead of curve in understanding that [research and clinical practice] was important to being a doctor,” Falvey said.
Now, the School of Medicine is best known for its biomedical research, Alpern said. The Anlyan Center, which opened on Cedar Street in 2003, is now the largest building at Yale and has considerably expanded the school’s research facilities, he said.
The medical school is also well-known for its clinical practice — it is currently ranked among the top 15 medical schools for clinical practice, Alpern said. Still, the school has been working to improve the clinical facet of its education over the past decade by hiring more faculty members.
“We have a very good clinical program and is getting even better,” Alpern said. “But I want to grow it more and more. I want to have one of top five [clinical practices].”
Although the School of Medicine — then called the Medical Institute of Yale College — was not founded until 1810, plans for a medical school at Yale had been floating around since the late 18th century, Falvey said.
During Ezra Stiles’ reign as president of the University between 1778 and 1795, he considered a plan for a restyled Yale College that included a medical school, Falvey, who is also the editor of the book “Medicine at Yale: the First 200 Years,” said. His vision, Falvey said, was to improve and standardize medical education.
When the Connecticut Medical Society finally opened the Medical Institute’s doors in 1813, aspiring doctors had to apprentice with any available practicing medical official. Without any standardized testing or training, the education of future doctors was highly variable, Falvey said.
While most other medical schools in the 19th century only became affiliated with established colleges several years after their inception, the Medical Institute was tied to Yale from the moment of its founding, because of its link with the Connecticut Medical Society, a for-profit organization owned by local doctors, Falvey said.
With the foundations set, the School of Medicine was ready to start educating the next generation of doctors.
The entering Medical Institute class in 1813 was made up of 37 students, 63 fewer than the Class of 2014, Falvey said. The medical school had equally few professors at the time, with only five faculty members, including Silliman College’s Benjamin Silliman, the first scientist to distill petroleum.
In the last two centuries, the medical school has expanded, increasing the size of each graduating class to around 100 students, and growing its team of full-time medical faculty to 1,322 members, Alpern said.
But the expansion has not been completely without debate.
The administration once considered admitting more than 100 students to match the growing national demand for doctors, Alpern said. Ultimately they vetoed the suggestion, though, for fear of reducing the quality of the school’s education.
Part of the School of Medicine’s philosophy on medical education includes a policy of not explicitly grading students on their semester’s work.
Under the “Yale System,” students receive no graded feedback until their third year of study, when they are graded on a scale from “fail” to “high pass” or “honors,” Warren Perry MED ’12 said.
“With the Yale System, you don’t have to worry about competing with other students,” Perry added.
Though few other schools follow a grading system like Yale’s, the medical school does not intend to change its policy in the future, Falvey said.
Falvey explained that the “Yale System” of education is a feature of the curriculum that the community “cherishes and respects.”
Though all five medical students interviewed agreed that the appeal of a gradeless education contributed to their decision, Perry said he also appreciates the school’s reputation and “laid-back” environment.
“[The Yale] name precedes itself and [the School of Medicine’s] structure isn’t as rigid as other schools,” Perry said.
Jordan Sloshower MED ’12 said the “flexibility” of the medical school’s program allows him to continue to pursue his interest in anthropology and public health while still meeting the requirements for his medical degree.