Published: 10-11-2011, 12:08

William Henry Welch (1850–1934) - American Education

An archaic method of measuring per pupil American physician and educator who devised the model for modern medical school education. One of the most important and influential figures in American medicine, Welch was born in Connecticut, the son and grandson of doctors. He did his undergraduate work at Yale University and earned his M.D. at the College of Physicians and Surgeons (now part of Columbia University), in New York. After studying in Germany under several leading scientists, he returned to New York in 1879 to become professor of pathology and anatomy at Bellevue Hospital Medical College, where he founded the first pathology laboratory in the United States.

In 1884, he was appointed professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University, a relatively new institution that was pioneering new approaches to higher education. At the time, medical education consisted of a combination of apprenticeships, textbook study and one to three years of formal lectures at one of the myriad proprietary medical schools organized by local practitioners. Welch developed a new, formal, four-year medical-school curriculum— the first in the United States. It consisted of two years of laboratory study of preclinical subjects, such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and pathology, followed by two years of inhospital study of the clinical subjects of medicine, surgery and obstetrics.

Welch helped found both the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1889 and its medical school in 1893, of which he was the first dean. He linked the school inextricably to the hospital by recruiting such distinguished physician-researchers as Sir William Osler (1849–1919) and the renowned surgeon William S. Halsted (1852–1922) to staff both institutions—as professors in the medical school and as heads of their departments in the hospital. The appointments made them responsible for delivery of medical services as well as medical instruction, and the arrangement created the first so-called teaching hospital in the United States.

While making the hospital’s physicianteachers central to the life of the medical schools, Welch also made the medical school’s laboratory and library facilities equally central to the research needs of the hospital and its physicians. Their combined duties forced physician-professors to integrate advanced medical education with practical hospital routine, as they led their students on daily rounds of hospital wards, applying textbook and laboratory knowledge. The teaching standards and methods—and the four-year medical degree—made Johns Hopkins a model for teaching hospitals that sprang up in cities across the United States.

In 1896, Welch founded the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the first journal to publish the results of major medical experiments. Still at Johns Hopkins in 1901, he helped found the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now, ROCKEFELLER UNIVERSITY), in New York, and sewed as chairman of its board of scientific directors. In 1926, he became the director of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, the first school of its kind in the world. He also became the university’s first professor of the history of medicine in that year. The author of many medical papers on pathology and bacterial infections, he sewed at one time or another as president of almost all the leading medical and scientific organizations in the United States, including the Association of American Physicians (1901), the American Medical Association (1910) and the National Academy of Sciences (1913–16). During World War I, he served with the surgeon general of the United States, earning the rank of brigadier general.

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