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Published: August 8, 2011

John Morgan (1735–1789)

American physician, educator and “father” of modern medical education in the United States. Born in Philadelphia, Morgan was a member of the first graduating class of the College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania). Following a six-year medical apprenticeship, he served four years as a surgeon in the French and Indian War, but was so appalled by the poor medical care that he determined to pursue formal medical studies in En gland in 1760. After obtaining an M.D. at the University of Edinburgh and pursuing additional medical studies in France and Italy, he returned to Philadelphia in 1765, determined to establish the first true medical school in the Americas. On May 3, 1765, at his request and suggestion, the College of Philadelphia opened the first medical school in the colonies and named Morgan to fill the first chair as professor of the theory and practice of medicine. At the 1765 commencement a month later, he delivered a Discourse upon the Institution of Medical Schools in America, which is often called “the charter of medical education” in the New World.

In it he called for a separation of the practices of surgery and pharmacy from “physic” (“the cure of inward diseases, and such complaints as require the use of medicines”). Calling for a code of medical ethics, he urged an end to the practice of doctors selling medicines to patients. He also called for vast changes in medical education, urging the development of a new curriculum based on liberal education in the arts, sciences and languages, followed by extensive training in anatomy, “materia medica,” botany (herbal medicine), chemistry, the theory of physic (physiology and pathology) and the practice of medicine.

Morgan was named director general of hospitals and physician in chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, but his efforts to reform medical care in the army so angered his colleagues that he was dismissed in 1777. Later, Gen. George Washington personally exonerated him. One of the founders of the Philadelphia College of Surgeons, Morgan spent the remainder of his life in private practice in Philadelphia. (See also MEDICAL EDUCATION.)