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Dean Wilbur's Recollections of the Deanship

For an overview of Dr. Wilbur's five productive years as Dean we turn now to excerpts from his Memoirs. [41]

As it was obvious that the Stanford Medical School which Dr. Jordan had asked me to head would develop slowly and the classes would be small, Marguerite (Mrs. Wilbur) and I decided that it would be better to live in Palo Alto than in San Francisco. We purchased a house in Palo Alto at 1201 Bryant Street. (The house was torn down and replaced in 1966. ) We knew by experience that I could make five times my academic salary if I went back into medical practice. I still had my reputation as a teacher in medicine and my administrative way to make. Plenty of observers at Stanford and in San Francisco and Berkeley were in opposition to the medical school The whole idea of medicine taught by men on academic salaries was a subject of day-to-day discussion in medical and university circles. It was a period when Cooper Medical College was letting go and Stanford taking hold more each year. . . .

The succeeding years until I was elected president of the University were used for the development of a program for the new medical school. My whole attention was centered on making it of as high quality as possible. . . .

This was a period of considerable conflict. I found it not the easiest thing in the world to push overboard some of the members of the Cooper Medical Faculty who had given me training and to bring others forward in the new school. What I did was done in an atmosphere of opposition, not only from the University of California Medical School but also from members of the Stanford faculty, some of whom thought the University should not take on such a new responsibility. . . .

The medical faculty of Cooper (Medical College) had been made up largely of volunteers who were leaders in the practice of medicine and who gave a portion of their time to the care of patients and to teaching students for the medical school. There had to be a reorganization of titles and new adjustment of departments, and many disappointments, so that my first years as dean were busy ones . . . .

It is given to few men to see the beginnings of a great university, such as I had seen in my Stanford student days; fewer still have had, in addition to that, the unique opportunity that I now had to pioneer in the organization of a new medical institution. It was a stimulating experience. I was on my mettle, too, because the acceptance of the Cooper Medical College property by Stanford University was at first a subject of some debate. The agitation died down as the Stanford Medical School became renowned for its research in various fields of medicine and soon had as many medical students as it could accommodate with its existing facilities.

This was a time of revolutionary change in the medical schools of the United States. They were discontinuing their old lecture system with staffs made up of part-time clinical professors. Many of the schools were appointing academic professors to the various medical chairs on academic salaries, with the idea that they could engage in teaching and research, assist in the clinical work, and do a certain amount of consultation work if it could be done without harm to their teaching programs.

It all meant that medical education had become more expensive, requiring more men of long and expensive training to work in its departments, and that true university status should be maintained in all of its departments. It also meant two kinds of instructors in the medical schools: (1) those with clinical appointments on a nominal salary who, as a side line to their own medical practice, worked in the clinics doing a certain amount of teaching, and (2) the so-called full-time academic professors, some in clinical positions in addition to their regular teaching, on academic salaries. . . .

Our first Stanford class in San Francisco was small but our students were well trained. The courses by Professors A. W. Meyer in anatomy, Hans Zinsser in bacteriology, A. C. Crawford in pharmacology, and Robert E. Swain in chemistry were done as well as anywhere in the country.. . .

Dr. William Ophüls was a constant source of scientific strength. Dr. George E. Somers took on the management of the hospitals and clinics. While we had insufficient funds to go on a full academic basis, we did appoint a few full-time younger men on academic salaries, such as Dr. Thomas Addis in medicine, Dr. James Eaves in surgery, and Dr. Harold K. Faber in pediatrics. We were fortunate, too, to get Dr. Albert B. Spalding (A. B. Stanford, 1896; M. D. Columbia, 1900), who had taken a thorough training in obstetrics and gynecology in New York, to head that department.

From the first we considered research as one of the most important functions of the medical school. In transmitting to the student the medical knowledge gathered in the past the work of the medical school is only half done. So long as there is even one disease left in the world for which we have no cure, research must go on. Students and faculty members must have thorough training in gathering facts first hand and in working out new procedures to meet new conditions. In doing so, full use must be made of the laboratories and clinical material in our medical schools and hospitals. Today, that is a generally accepted program; but when we organized our new Stanford Medical School with a definite provision for research programs it was looked upon as something of an innovation. . .

I tried to stimulate the men who were working with me to take up special fields of medicine. For example, Bright's disease seemed to be one of the most promising fields and, as it was one in which the kind of mind that Dr. Thomas Addis had would be most apt to be useful, I encouraged him to take up the studies on the kidney which he subsequently carried out with great success. Addis came to us as a young doctor, in 1911, from the University of Edinburgh, highly recommended to me by Sir Clifford Allbutt, of Cambridge, as one of the most promising of the younger British trained men.

We had a series of botulism cases on the University campus that we were able to trace to their source, which turned out to be home-canned string beans. Dr. Thomas M. Williams who was practicing medicine in Palo Alto, was called in to see some of the girls who had become acutely ill after attending a dinner party at one of the sorority houses on the campus. He brought me into consultation. Botulism is now well known; but at that time it was a rare disease, not well understood and seldom diagnosed. . . That botulism outbreak led to a general public attack on the commercial canning of food, so that it was very important when we were able to show that only those who had eaten the home-canned string beans were affected.. . .Out of this experience grants of money were made to the Stanford Medical School for Assistant Professor Ernest Charles Dickson (who became professor of public health and preventive medicine in 1926) to make a careful study of the conditions which brought about the development of botulism and to work out methods of destroying the poison through boiling. . .(Dr. Dickson later took up the laboratory side of coccidioides and made important observations.).

We worked in an atmosphere of young men and enthusiasts, friendly critics and congenial associates. (Here Dr. Wilbur well describes the collegial atmosphere that characterized faculty relationships at Stanford Medical School in San Francisco from 1909 to 1959.)

Frankly, I took the Stanford presidency so that medicine would not be destroyed as a part of the University. [42]

President Branner saw the medical school as a menace to the future of Stanford University with its limited endowment, while I saw it as the first great gift for a Stanford that was to be one of the great universities of the world. It had started that way in the mind of Senator Stanford, as embodied in the

Founding Grant of Stanford University

"The Trustees shall have the power, and it shall be their duty:

"4. To establish and have given by the University, by its ablest professors, courses of lectures upon the Science of Government, and upon Law, Medicine, Mechanics, and the other Arts, and Sciences." [43]

Medicine, as a crown on biology and as of service to man seemed to me to have its natural home in the University. I agreed with the original statement of the Stanfords (in the Founding Grant) on having medicine as a part of the University and as I became more involved in medicine at Stanford and in the United States I found myself a part of the movement to advance the requirements for premedical and medical education and to bring medicine into the universities of the country. . . So much so that when the presidency of the University was offered to me, I decided to accept.

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