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Changing Places: Penn Medicine’s Educational Homes

Jordan Center

Large Seminar Room, Henry A. Jordan M’62 Medical Education Center

As the yearlong celebration of the Perelman School of Medicine’s 250th anniversary continues, construction on the Henry A. Jordan M ’62 Medical Education Center is nearly complete. Classes will begin there in early 2015. The new center will offer an optimized learning environment for students at the Perelman School of Medicine. Situated atop the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine and connected to the Smilow Center for Translational Research and the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, the Jordan Center will be one of the few medical educational facilities in the nation to be fully integrated with research and clinical practice facilities. The Center will also strengthen the collaborative and team-based relationships that define medicine today.

First Med home

The first Penn (College of Philadelphia) campus, Fourth Street, near Arch Street, home of the Medical Department, 1765-1802.

But the Jordan Center is only the latest of the many educational sites in the medical school’s long and illustrious history. Its first location did not begin to hint at the grand constructions that would follow. In 1765, the University of Pennsylvania was still known as the College of Philadelphia. It was situated in the heart of the colonial city, on the west side of Fourth Street, between Market and Arch streets. When the classes began that November, John Morgan, MD, the chief visionary of the medical school, presented his lessons in the lecture hall of the College building. That building remained the home of the school (originally known as the Medical Department) until 1802. In the first years, William Shippen, MD, the school’s second professor, gave his lectures in his private anatomical rooms near the college buildings. In addition, Thomas Bond, MD, a surgeon and founder of Pennsylvania Hospital, conducted clinical lectures at the hospital that reinforced the medical instruction.

From 1791 to 1807, the Anatomical Theatre on Fifth Street was the home of the Medical Department’s anatomy and chemistry departments. It became Penn’s and the nation’s first building to be used exclusively for medical teaching. Considering that it was a room no larger than 27 feet by 35 feet and would have as many as 100 students or more, it was an extremely tight fit!

From the President’s House to West Philadelphia


Medical Hall West Phila

Medical Hall, West Philadelphia

The next home of the Medical Department was on Ninth Street, between Market and Chestnut streets. The main building, erected in 1797 to serve as the residence for the president of the United States, was bought by the University in 1802. The second floor of the building remained the base of the Medical Department (except for the anatomy and chemistry departments) until 1829. In 1807, the University built an addition that housed the two satellite departments.

Besides lectures at Pennsylvania Hospital, the medical students could attend clinical lectures on the wards of the Philadelphia Almshouse. It was located on Spruce Street between 10th and 11th streets. Eventually known as Philadelphia General Hospital, the Almshouse moved to West Philadelphia later in the 19th century, as did the University.

In 1829, the University took an initial step west, to Ninth Street, where its College Hall and Medical Hall were located. The latter contained the Anatomical Museum, dissecting laboratories, and three lecture rooms. Significant changes were to come some years later with the Civil War, bringing new courses in hygiene, mandatory classes on practical anatomy, and improved instruction in managing patients. At the same time, interest in laboratory science was growing, but the school sorely needed more facilities. In the late 1860s, the University’s trustees initiated expansion plans to relocate the University across the Schuylkill into West Philadelphia, which was then much less developed than the original colonial city. The first new campus buildings, also called College Hall and Medical Hall, opened in 1872 and 1874 respectively. Over the years, Medical Hall was renamed Logan Hall and, in 2008, Claudia Cohen Hall. The other major development in the school’s westward move was the opening in 1874 of the nation’s first hospital built by a university to advance the education of its medical students. University Hospital, as it was first known, effectively changed how its students were taught the clinical aspects of medicine -- from the apprenticeship system to bedside instruction.

The Importance of Laboratory Science


Other changes were soon to follow. The Hare Building, built in 1878, was the site where laboratory work in general chemistry, medical chemistry, materia medica, pathology, and histology was taught. The first of many additions to the University Hospital, the Gibson Wing for diseases of the heart and lung also gave medical students more opportunity for clinical training. Then, in 1895, Penn made another major advance with the opening of the Pepper Laboratory of Clinical Medicine as a research and service arm to the University Hospital. Although it became the place where investigators made important contributions, the lab’s teaching mission was limited to medical school graduates rather than undergraduate medical students.

Another landmark -- still standing proudly -- was the Medical Laboratories Building, erected in 1904. (It was renamed the John Morgan Building in 1987.) It had four large lecture halls, for physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and bacteriology. Twenty-five years later, a wing for anatomy and chemistry was added. Penn’s commitment to training in the laboratory sciences predated Abraham Flexner’s historic 1910 study on medical schools in the United States and Canada, which advocated the importance of laboratory science in the medical curriculum. Penn fared well in the Flexner Report, which noted that it had “five separate well-equipped buildings” for laboratory use. One important result of the Flexner Report was that it drove inferior medical schools out of business.

In 1969, the Robert Wood Johnson Pavilion on Penn’s Hamilton Walk was completed and opened for medical education and research. More focused was the Medical Education Building, also on Hamilton Walk. It physically linked the School of Medicine and HUP, underscoring the importance of clinical care in the well-rounded teaching of medical students. Completed in 1978, it was renamed Edward J. Stemmler Hall in 1991 in honor of the former dean.

Many of Penn Medicine’s more recent buildings have been geared to research, as their names imply: the Clinical Research Building (1989); the Stellar-Chance Laboratories (1994); the 14-story Biological Research Building II/III (2001); and the Smilow Center for Translational Research (2011). After this sequence, the erection of the Jordan Center seems even more notable. Situated so close to the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, the Smilow Center, and the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, the Jordan Center will place Penn’s medical students directly in the lively mix of education, research, and clinical care. It promises to be an enriched learning experience in today’s and tomorrow’s complex health environment. John Morgan and William Shippen would be astonished -- and delighted.

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