Columbia Medicine Annual Report 2017
At this year’s alumni reunion gala in May, Ron Cohen’81 regaled fellow alumni and guests with his portrayal of Samuel Bard. Dressed in period attire, Dr. Cohen took us back to the 1770s to remind us of the historic beginnings of what is now the College of Physicians & Surgeons. Known then as the King’s College medical faculty, P&S has survived mergers, faculty insurrections, wars, and several moves around New York City. That the school—the second medical school established in the Colonies and the first to grant the MD degree—is still here to celebrate its 250-year anniversary is testament to the perseverance of the multiple generations of faculty and administrators who worked hard to raise the bar on medical education, patient care, research, and service to our neighborhood, city, and nation.
The latest achievements in those missions are described in the pages of this year’s annual report.
- Stem cell research that is expanding through the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative
- Our many community programs, including a new community wellness center in Manhattanville that not only offers care to Harlem residents but also trains individuals to help their neighbors at risk for stroke or mental illness
- The latest developments in precision medicine and our role in a federal effort to enroll 1 million participants in the All of Us program
- The 250th Anniversary Scholarship Challenge and our goal of making medical school at Columbia debt-free for students who otherwise would need to borrow money to become physicians
These articles and others not only document our success over the past year, but also celebrate the deep commitments to our missions throughout our history—a history we have been commemorating all year as we near November 2, the 250-year anniversary of the first day of classes at Columbia’s medical school. At right is the announcement that ran in the New York Gazette in September of 1767.
In 1769, a few years after those initial classes, two men were awarded bachelor’s degrees in medicine. Little is known about their careers. When one of those graduates, Robert Tucker, earned an MD degree a year later, he became the first MD recipient in the Colonies. The other 1769 graduate, Samuel Kissam, received his MD in 1771—the second awarded in the Colonies. His family’s connection to P&S includes 13 MD graduates between the years of 1771 and 1867.
The first graduation ceremony, in 1769, was an impressive event. Held on May 22 in Trinity Church in lower Manhattan, guests included civilian and military dignitaries as well as Governor Sir Henry Moore. Samuel Bard’s speech that day was later published and is remarkable for his call for the graduates to raise the prevailing levels of medical ethics and to keep abreast of medical knowledge, two principles that remain part of the foundation of a P&S education today.
Those first classes offered in November 1767 cost much less than today’s tuition, hence the need for a scholarship campaign to ensure that today’s graduates pursue the medical careers of their dreams instead of careers that will enable them to pay back hefty loans. That campaign was jump-started by Diana and P. Roy Vagelos’54, who have asked Roy’s fellow P&S graduates to help tomorrow’s alumni fund their education through scholarships. They also have contributed to the education of our students by being the lead donors for the Roy and Diana Vagelos
Education Center, which is now fully occupied and used by our students for classes or studying. The building, with its dazzling views of the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge, has been popular beyond our wildest expectations and is a fitting legacy to the generosity of Roy and Diana and the many other donors who made the building possible.
Among the materials developed to celebrate the 250 years of medical education at P&S is a graphic suggested by Donald Landry’83, chair of medicine. It is impossible to view the graphic, above, without being awed by the context of our 250 years in civilization. This hit home this year on the Fourth of July, when we celebrated the 241st birthday of our nation. It is humbling to recall that P&S is older than our country and that our founding dean was personal physician to the nation’s first president. We not only have made history with our medical contributions, we also are an important part of history.
As we continue to celebrate our history through special events this year, we also are committed to shaping the future through continuous retooling of our educational programs, growth of our research (our NIH funding increased by 17 percent last year), expansion of patient care programs, and increased engagement with our neighbors in our community and across the city. I invite you to peruse the pages of this report to learn more about the many ways we are making a difference.
With our clinical partner, NewYork-Presbyterian, we also are celebrating the renaming of our shared campus in Washington Heights as the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, in honor of the commitment, loyalty, and generosity of Florence and Herbert Irving.
We are as proud of our medical school today as the founders must have been when they offered those £5 classes 250 years ago to launch the first generation of American-educated healers. Much has changed in education and patient care since then, but our core values remain unchanged. Our students, classrooms, and clinical facilities may look different, but our commitment to educating physicians and scientists, to caring for patients, to expanding medical knowledge, and to helping our neighbors has not diminished. We can only imagine how academic medicine may evolve over the next 250 years, but we remain confident that our ongoing commitment to excellence will ensure continued success—for our medical school, our medical center, and our graduates.
With best wishes,
Lee Goldman, MD, Dean
Download the 2017 Columbia Medicine Annual Report below.