Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Glory Days of Medical Education

    Reinforcing the public's adulation of medical research was the attitude of the researchers themselves; their view that medical research was a call­ing. their conspicuous disdain for commercialism, and their lack of inter­est in personal financial reward, provided that their laboratory and department were well supported. Medical scientists were hardly without ego or ambition. However, they sought nonmonetary rewards: approval and recognition from their peers and, for a lucky few, from society. The currency of academic medicine was not dollars but publications, appoint­ments, titles, memberships, and awards.

    Here was no better indication of the antipathy of medical schools toward commercialism than their attitude toward patents. In their view, the objective of medical research was to promote the public welfare, not to enable individuals or institutions to profit financially from inventions or discoveries. Most medical schools would not hold patents or accept royalties from patents that arose from university work. At the University of Rochester, for instance, neither George Comer nor the school's dean gave any thought to patenting Comer's discovery of the hormone prog­esterone. It was their position that no medical discovery should be com­mercially restricted, even for the benefit of a university.

    Although there were a few exceptions to this pattern, this was the policy at the two most important schools, Johns Hopkins and Harvard. At Hopkins, the dean declared that "universities (and particularly med­ical schools) do not belong in business. Any commercialization of the institutions will in the long run do the institutions great harm. Universities being supported by philanthropy and by State grants should not sell themselves in any way."  Neither the school nor individual faculty members owned patents, and the school refused royalties from patents growing out of medical school research." Harvard Medical School went further. Not only were patents by faculty members prohibited, but the school offered to provide legal advice to faculty members who desired help to prevent others from patenting their discoveries or inventions. When Harvard Medical School dedicated its patent on liver extract for the treatment of pernicious anemia to the public, it engaged in a "ven­omous discourse" with the "burned up" Eli Lilly Company, which had invested more than $1,000,000 in the work. Ully wanted "a special 'in'," but the school refused "in the belief that Harvard professors worked for the public interest." In research, as well as in education, American med­ical schools acted as a public trust.

The above is from p38 and 39 of Time to Heal by Dr. Kenneth M. Ludmerer.  There may be some OCR issues with the original because of our unjustifiable intellectual monopoly laws Google won't let me just cut and paste.  Those were really the glory days of medical education.


Pima Medical Institute – Medical Career Training & Healthcare Education said...

Very interesting and informative post. I look forward to more in the future.