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Way Back When -- and Right Now


When it comes to longevity, no other American medical school can beat the Perelman School of Medicine. As the year-long celebration of the 250th anniversary of the school’s founding continues, the Spring 2015 issue of Penn Medicine has the good fortune of running a dozen pages from its new history, To Spread the Light of Knowledge. The title comes from John Morgan, MD, taken from the visionary address he delivered in May, 1765. In it, he set forth the pressing need for American medical schools and presented his views of what such schools should provide. Both that quotation and the many others from Morgan that appear throughout the new history leave no doubt that he had ambition to spare and was not the least shy about sharing his vision. But as we look back 250 years later, we have to concede that Morgan’s stirring discourse has indeed borne fruit. Many, many cartons of it.

To Spread the Light of Knowledge, available later this spring, is a large-format, limited-edition book produced by the Penn Medicine Department of Communications. It was written by Carol Benenson Perloff and designed by Stark Design, with archival assistance from Mark Frazier Lloyd, director of the University of Pennsylvania Archives and Records Center, and his staff. At nearly 200 pages, the book includes a wealth of information, as well as many paintings and photographs that have never before been compiled. The excerpt offers a brief but engaging overview of what is in the book.


An artifact from the past: Philip Syng Physick's lancet and its case.

The new issue of the magazine definitely has a historical flavor. In addition to the book excerpt, there is an article on the gift to University Archives of eight notebooks of Jonathan Elmer IV, a member of the medical school’s very first class. The notebooks offer an unprecedented glimpse of what the first medical students in America were taught in lectures. One of the lecturers was John Morgan himself; another was William Shippen, the second physician appointed a professor in the young medical school. Closer in time is an article about C. C. Chu, MD, who met and befriended Penn’s legendary I. S. Ravdin at the 20th General Hospital in India during World War II. That meeting set in motion a relationship that has lasted from then until now, and the piece follows three of Dr. Chu’s children who all earned degrees or did training at Penn.

There was no dean as such when John Morgan and William Shippen began their medical teaching. That position was much later in coming. But the Spring issue includes an article on two deans who left their mark on the school in the 1960s and early 1970s: Samuel Gurin, the only dean so far not to be an MD and a champion of science, and Alfred Gellhorn, who called for expanded health coverage for Americans, a “renewed sense of humanism,” and outreach to the community. The ideas of both deans are very relevant today as well.


The Jordan Medical Education Center: built for now -- and for the future.

Still, time, it is said, marches on -- at least when it is not hurtling past. The final article in the issue is about Howard Frumkin, a 1982 graduate of the School of Medicine, who is now dean of the very forward-looking School of Public Health at the University of Washington. He has called for urban planners, architects, and others to work together in creating “healthier places for people.” And he has studied and spoken out about some very contemporary concerns, such as the consequences of climate change.

From the handful of lectures begun in November 1765 all the way to today’s most advanced educational environment: the new Henry A. Jordan M’62 Medical Education Center. The lead piece in this issue’s “Vital Signs” reports that the school has moved to the high-tech center, described as one of the first in the nation to fully integrate education facilities with active clinical care and research lab space. The center includes recording and simulcast capabilities to support global conferences, telemedicine, and the creation of online courses and lectures available to millions. It’s an auspicious way to head into the next 250 years.

To Spread the Light of Knowledge, to be published in May, will be available in three editions, including with a premium cover and in a limited-run keepsake box to display and preserve this special book. You can pre-order today at

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