Reflections and stories from the past and today.
Share your memories with us here or use the hashtag #ColumbiaPS250 on Twitter or Instagram.

P&S has a new name!

P&S entrance with Vagelos naming

Celebrating our school's new name, the Roy and Diana Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Read more.

Samuel Bard: Remarks on the constitution, government, discipline & expences

Samuel Bard manuscript

The Columbia University Health Sciences Library has recently acquired a manuscript by Samuel Bard (1742-1821), a founder of the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S) and a prominent early American physician.

Entitled Remarks on the constitution, government, discipline & expences [sic] of medical schools – submitted to the Regents of the University of New York in obedience to their requisition for such information, the 35 page manuscript was composed and signed by Bard in 1819 replying in his capacity as President of the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The manuscript provides an important insight into the educational philosophy of one of the most notable physicians of the early United States.  The son of a doctor, Samuel Bard studied first at King’s (now Columbia) College before receiving his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1765.  He was one of the six New York City physicians who in 1767 persuaded King’s College to establish a medical school, now the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, the second oldest in the United States. Bard served as its dean and professor of medicine until its closure in 1776 due to the War for Independence and, after the newly renamed Columbia College revived the medical school in 1791, he served it first as dean and later as president until his death.  Bard Hall, the P&S residence hall, is named for him. In addition to his involvement with P&S, Bard was one of the founders in 1771 of New York Hospital, now part of New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the primary teaching hospital of the medical school.

Bard writes that “the peculiar circumstances and wants of our Country” – especially that the United States was “extensive and but thinly inhabited” – meant that apart from a few physicians in large cities most American physicians were not well-paid.  Therefore, he continues, “the general mass of students of medicine are poor; it is therefore very important that we provide them with the best instruction at the cheapest rate.”

Although the U.S. is no longer “thinly inhabited,” the cost of medical education is still a concern in the 21st century as witnessed by the recent donation by Dr. Roy Vagelos (P&S, 1954) and his wife Diana (Barnard, 1955) of $250 million to support scholarships at P&S.

Bard then compares and contrasts instruction at P&S with four other medical schools: the University of Edinburgh, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and the University of Maryland.   He asserts that instruction could be reduced to five courses: anatomy, chemistry, practice of medicine, midwifery, and surgery.  Though Bard believes that clinical medical courses “when properly delivered by a competent Teacher, are among the most useful a student can attend” he realizes that they can only be offered when there is a faculty member attached to a public hospital.

Besides curriculum, Bard discusses the length of time students need to apprentice with a practitioner, the manner of examining candidates for the medical degree, and the best method of governing the College – “where some dissensions have again arisen” among the Trustees, he notes.

The manuscript is the second by Bard to be acquired by the Health Sciences Library in recent years. In 2013, the library purchased the autograph manuscript of his 1811 Discourse on the Importance of Medical Education, a lecture he delivered at the medical school that year. 

The new manuscript is in generally good condition though it will require treatment by conservators to prevent paper loss. Once this work is complete, the manuscript will be available for study and exhibition.

For more information, please contact


Stephen E. Novak
Head, Archives & Special Collections
Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library
Columbia University Medical Center
701 West 168th Street
New York, NY  10032
PH: (212) 305-7931

Samuel Fisk Green: Medical Pioneer in South Asia

Samuel Fisk Green, Medical Pioneer in South Asia

Two years after graduating from the College of Physicians & Surgeons in 1845, Samuel Fisk Green arrived in Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka, where he spent the next 26 years providing medical care to the missionaries who worked there—and “locals who requested care.”

He also opened the first medical school in Ceylon, and on the occasion of the school’s 150th anniversary in 1998, Sri Lanka issued a stamp honoring Dr. Green’s contributions.

“The hospital he started still exists and is named Green Memorial Hospital,” says Dr. D.C. Ambalavanar, a visiting lecturer in surgery at the University of Jaffna. “I worked there once as a junior doctor and my mother was medical superintendent there for many years.”

When Dr. Green started a medical school in Manipay, the people there—Tamils—knew little of Western medicine. A 150th anniversary speech about Dr. Green given by Dr. N. Sivarajah noted that his intention in educating locals in medicine was to “popularize Western medicine among local people and wean them from indigenous practices which were injurious to health.”

The school’s first three students in 1848 were hand-picked from a local seminary for a three-year medical course based on American medical school curricula. During the 26 years Dr. Green was in Jaffna, he had trained 87 doctors, some in English and others in the Tamil language.

He expected graduates to remain in Jaffna to serve the local people in the villages, but demand for the graduates was high and many obtained jobs in the government or moved to other parts of Sri Lanka. Some also moved to India and Malaya.

In an effort to stem this exodus, Dr. Green started teaching in Tamil. No Tamil books existed on Western medicine, so he translated English medical books into Tamil. This included major textbooks (“Gray’s Anatomy” and “Dalton’s Physiology,” for example) and several original treatises on general health, cholera, and parts of the body.

His translation of “Cutter’s Anatomy, Physiology and Hygiene” (2nd edition) was printed locally in Manipay. When news of his translations spread to South India, he received orders for 134 copies of the textbook from Thirunelvely in South India. Dr. Green’s translations resulted in 4,500 pages of works in Tamil.

Two Tamil medical students helped him with the translations. One of those students, Joshua Danforth, was among the first class of students at the medical school. He later received an honorary MD degree from P&S on Dr. Green’s recommendation. Dr. Danforth succeeded Dr. Green as medical superintendent of the Manipay hospital.

At the request of the British government, Dr. Green helped establish the Friend-in-Need Society Hospital in Jaffna and was the first visiting surgeon there. The hospital is now the Teaching Hospital and the leading government hospital in the north of the country. From 1850 to 1907, the medical staff of the Friend-in-Need Society Hospital were drawn almost totally from the graduates of Dr. Green’s medical school.

Dr. Green’s papers were discovered a few years ago by his descendants in a storage warehouse. His Tamil translations of Western medical works, including the physiology textbook by Columbia’s John Dalton, were acquired by the UCLA library.

Dr. Green was born in Massachusetts. His brother, Andrew Haswell Green, was a New York City planner, lawyer, and civic leader sometimes called “the Father of Greater New York” for his work on Central Park, the New York Public Library, the Bronx Zoo, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other projects throughout New York City.

The Manipay medical school closed in 1879, and Dr. Green died in Massachusetts in 1884. His will asked that his gravestone be plain and simple and include these words: “medical evangelist to the Tamils.”

Columbia's Department of Medicine at 250: History and Trajectory

DOM Grand Rounds 250th Lecture

On November 15, Dr. Donald Landry and Thomas Morris, MD traced the illustrious history of Columbia's Department of Medicine over the past 250 years at the Medicine Grand Rounds Lecture.

250th Anniversary Reception at AAMC Learn Serve Lead in Boston

AAMC reception collage

P&S faculty and local alumni in Boston enjoyed a special 250th Anniversary reception at AAMC Learn Serve Lead on Sunday, November 5. The program included remarks by Ronald Drusin, MD, Lisa Mellman, MD, and Hilda Hutcherson, MD who provided an update on current priorities in P&S medical education including the curriculum, the need for scholarships, student affairs and diversity initiatives.

Reflection: Making Change Happen

Erica Cao, P&S student musician
I remember the first week of class as a first year student - there was a discussion group after public health expert Shannon Brownlee's talk on the problems of the US healthcare system, and we were committed to the idea that our generation could do something to change the system for the better. We dreamed of a sort of revolution starting in medical education. One of us asked, "what's our slogan"?
Now four years later, I still marvel at the energy of P&S students to come together with passion and energy. I am hopeful that as the years progress, we will see even more progress. I am already starting to see how my classmates have made reforms ranging from implementing an honor policy allowing flexibility of exam scheduling to organizing marches such as the recent DACA march - the specific events matter less than the kind of community involvement that is a hallmark of the P&S student body.
I am even more hopeful that in the years to come, my classmates will come to shape the future of medicine in line with "we don't just practice medicine, we change it." We study humanities. We study policy. We study physics. We bring all these perspectives into a larger conversation about how and where medicine is situated within arts, sciences, and society.
I am now embarking on my PhD in Music at the University of Cambridge under a Gates Scholarship, and I want very much to share because Columbia P&S is a place where you can do this. You will have to fight, you will have to be a little different, but my classmates are amazing - full of talent and energy - and I know that starting to change those huge, seemingly insurmountable obstacles that prevent us from caring to the best of our ability for patients starts from the very beginning of medical school. As I reflect on the 250th anniversary of P&S, I'm confident we can make the change happen.

P&S250 Empire State Lighting

CU PS250 Empire State Building lighting

On Thursday, November 2 the Empire State Building radiated in Columbia blue in celebration of the P&S 250th Anniversary. The spectacular view was picked up by ABC News and NBC News. Those two media clips are highlighted below.

ABC Eyewitness News

NBC New York

Photo credit: Charles E. Manley

250 years of Columbia P&S

250 years of Columbia P&S

It was a beautiful evening marking 250 years of Columbia's medical school. We were excited to see the Empire State Building light up in Columbia blue. Photo credit: Charles E. Manley.

Happy Birthdy to P&S

Jia Li, Columbia postdoc student
I am postdoctoral scientist. My full name is Jia Li. This is a very important day for me today as an international postdoc. Columbia Medical School is a one of the oldest and greatest medical school in the world. It is my honor to witness its 250 birthday.
Jia Li

Postdoctoral scientist

Department of Medicine

Columbia P&S 250 Popup party

Columbia P&S 250 Popup party

To mark our official birthday, on Thursday, November 2 we held a pop-up party at the Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center. P&S students, faculty, and staff stopped by for special 250th cookies and coffee, took turns at our photo booth to take pictures to mark the occassion, and shared their reflections about P&S on video.