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Louisville Celebrates 100th Anniversary of Flexner Report

by Erman,Linda last modified Jun 21, 2010 12:52 PM

May 4, 2010

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- National and local experts on educating health care providers and the life of Abraham Flexner gathered in Louisville today (May 4) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Flexner Report on medical education.

The Flexner Report Centennial Symposium, hosted by Jewish Hospital and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, provided an opportunity for people to learn more about the impact of the Flexner Report, as well as the life of Flexner and how it impacted his view of the state of medical education at the time. More than 200 people attended the daylong celebration.

“On this 100th anniversary of the Flexner Report, we are honored to have been able to host this event that celebrates one of the most enduring works related to medical education,” said Martin Bonick, senior vice president of Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s HealthCare.

“A century after the report’s publication, Flexner’s work still casts a long shadow over North American medical education,” said Dr. Edward Halperin, dean of the UofL School of Medicine. “We continue to feel the impact of Flexner’s work.”

Flexner, a native of Louisville, authored The Flexner Report, formally titled Medical Education in the United States and Canada. The scathing critique of medical education in North America served as the catalyst for its transformation.

The Report pointed fingers at schools, calling some of them “disgraceful,” “hopeless,” and “filthy.” With no medical background prior to being commissioned by the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Education, Flexner recommended closing nearly 80 percent of the medical schools in the United States.

At the same time, Flexner suggested many reforms to enhance the medical education system. These recommendations have stood the test of time and continue to be some of the basic tenets of medical education today. For instance, Flexner suggested a move to active learning, instead of the passive approach that was the norm of the time. Also, he suggested firm affiliations between medical schools and teaching hospital, underpinning all medical training the modern science and establishing a full and lifelong continuum of medical education.

He further recommended the standardization of medical education, high admittance standards and rigorous academic curricula. This resulted in dramatic increases in the quality of physicians in the United States.

The report also had a tremendous impact on Flexner’s life. He immediately became the most influential education reformer in the nation.

“The report catapulted Flexner to icon status,” said Dr. M. Saleem Seyal, a local cardiologist and expert in the history of Abraham Flexner. “He served as a reformer at all levels of education, from elementary school to post graduate studies.”

Other invited speakers who discussed the impact of the Flexner Report on all health care providers included:

  • Geraldine “Polly” Bednash, executive director of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing
  • Charles W. Flexner, professor of medicine and pharmacology and molecular sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and great nephew of Abraham Flexner
  • Richard Gunderman, professor of radiology, pediatrics, medical education, philosophy, liberal arts, and philanthropy at Indiana University
  • Darrell Kirch, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges
  • Kenneth Ludmerer, professor of medicine and history Washington University, St. Louis

Todd Savitt, secretary of the American Association of the History of Medicine and professor medical humanities at East Carolina University, concluded the program, delivering the T. Cook Smith lecture at the Innominate Medical Society dinner.

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