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American Medical Schools and the Practice of MedicineA History$
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William G. Rothstein

Print publication date: 1987

Print ISBN-13: 9780195041866

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195041866.001.0001

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Medical Education, 1900–1950: General Trends and Basic Medical Sciences

Medical Education, 1900–1950: General Trends and Basic Medical Sciences

(p.140) 7 Medical Education, 1900–1950: General Trends and Basic Medical Sciences
American Medical Schools and the Practice of Medicine

William G. Rothstein

Oxford University Press

During the first half of the twentieth century, American medical education underwent drastic changes. Greater costs of operation and the requirements of licensing agencies forced many medical schools to close and most of the others to affiliate with universities. The surviving medical schools were able to raise their admission and graduation requirements, which was also made possible by the rise in the general educational level of the population. The growth of the basic medical sciences led to the development of a new kind of faculty member whose career was confined to the medical school. During the first half of the twentieth century, the educational level of the population rose significantly. The proportion of the 17-year-old population with high school educations increased from 6.3 percent in 1900 to 16.3 percent in 1920, 28.8 percent in 1930, and 49.0 percent in 1940. The number of bachelors’ degrees conferred per 100 persons 23 years old increased from 1.9 in 1900 to 2.6 in 1920, 5.7 in 1930, and 8.1 in 1940. Between 1910 and 1940, the number of college undergraduates more than tripled. Because the number of medical students did not increase, medical schools were able to raise their admission standards. At the same time, many new professions competed with medicine for students. Between 1900 and 1940, dentistry, engineering, chemistry, accounting, and college teaching, among others, grew significantly faster than the traditional professions of medicine, law, and the clergy. Graduate education also became an alternative to professional training. Between 1900 and 1940, the number of masters’ and doctors’ degrees awarded, excluding medicine and other first professional degrees, increased from 1,965 to 30,021, or from 6.7 to 13.9 percent of all degrees awarded. Colleges and universities decentralized their organizational structure to deal with the increasingly technical and specialized content of academic disciplines. They established academic departments that consisted of faculty members who shared a common body of knowledge and taught the same or related courses. Departments were given the responsibility of supervising their faculty members, recruiting new faculty, and operating the department’s academic program. By 1950, departments existed in most of the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

Keywords:   Albany Medical College, Chemistry teaching, Flexner report, Harvard University medical school, Jefferson Medical College, Massachusetts General Hospital, Washington University medical school, Yale University medical school

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