History Blog

Northwestern Med School Comedies Allow Students to Showcase their Creativity

Story telling on a stage, with or without songs, dates to the beginning of Western civilization.The ancient Greeks included music and dance in many of their stage comedies and tragedies as early as the 5th Century B.C.The Romans copied and expanded the forms and traditions of Greek theater.


In Vivo 1986

In Vivo 1986

During the Middle Ages, Europe’s cultural mainstays included traveling minstrels and roving troupes of performers that offered popular songs, slapstick comedy and drama.


In Vivo 1981 program

In Vivo 1981 program

In the Renaissance, an Italian tradition evolved where raucous clowns improvised their way through familiar stories, known as the commedia dell’arte. These clown characters, such as Harlequin and Pulcinella, set the way for future Western stage comedy.

Just because a few years are interrupted by studying medicine, dentistry or pharmacy, these traditions have not been lost at Northwestern. In fact, these Western cultural traditions have been an integral part of student life since the 1890s.

At Northwestern’s schools, the annual ritual began as a gathering with alumni in 1895, including an evening dinner. These events fostered loyalty to the alma mater, influenced philanthropy, linked generations of graduates and formed alumni associations for the schools. Drama, revues, musical comedy and parody have long been the mainstay of these events.

Over the years, interest waxed and waned; however, at the medical school a major change took place in 1938, with a “gridiron” imitation of members of the faculty, politics within the University and world events.

Faculty complained that too much time was being spent on the student productions …

In Vivo 1987

In Vivo 1987

In 1952, something completely different came upon the scene called Quo Vadis Medicus? styled after Broadway musicals of the 1940s and 1950s. In 1960 the Alumni Association withdrew financial support and again, faculty complained that too much was time being spent on the student productions …

In Vivo rehearsal- 1985

In Vivo rehearsal- 1985

Revived in 1981, the annual student In Vivo production continues the tradition with titles such as A mid-lecture’s day dream (1981), Dear Mom, is it too late to go to law school? (1983), T.B. or not T.B., that is the congestion (1984) , Phantom of the O.R. (1990), Thoracic Park (1994) Tarry Potter and the Anatomist’s Bone (2005) and this year’s In Vivo 2013 Office Space, MD, a medical school take on the cult classic.

To read about Feinberg students’ latest In Vivo productions, access the links below:

2010 – NUFSoM Trek – Med School Begins

2011 The Side Effect

2012 – Top Gunner

Jan. 2013 – Mean Docs

Nov. 2013 – Office Space, MD

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Nursing Education at Northwestern University

In 1905 the medical school administration recommended to the University trustees that the training schools for the nurses of Mercy and Wesley hospitals become affiliated with Northwestern. The curricula were placed under the general supervision of the medical school, with laboratory instruction provided by medical school faculty. A high school diploma was required for admission.

Although the courses for nurses were separate from the medical students, the laboratories and other medical school facilities were freely available. Elementary laboratory instruction included anatomy, chemistry, dietetics, and bacteriology. The practical instruction for nurses was provided in each hospital.

Diplomas were presented to the nursing graduates at the University’s Annual Commencement beginning in 1906.

In 1911, the nursing school at Evanston Hospital was added to the affiliated program. Instruction was given in the laboratories of the College of Liberal Arts on the Evanston campus and at the hospital. The course of study, methods of instruction, and requirements for graduation was determined by a joint committee of the hospital and university. The coursework was practically the same as that required at Mercy and Wesley Memorial hospitals.

By 1920, the University’s affiliation with Mercy Hospital had ceased.

Nurses circa 1920

In 1926 the medical school moved to the new campus on Chicago Avenue, continuing the affiliation with Wesley Memorial Hospital and its nursing school, still located on the former Dearborn Street campus.

Passavant Memorial Hospital, which opened in 1929, was the first hospital on the new campus. A nursing school was established and became affiliated, with slightly higher admission requirements than the completion of high school so as to meet the requirements for admission to the College of Liberal Arts. Further courses offered by the medical school faculty included physiology, pharmacology, and pathology. There was discussion of establishing a combined baccalaureate degree nursing program; however, as mutually advantageous as the proposal was, negotiations dragged on for years.

During the Great Depression the nursing schools at Passavant and Wesley were closed, only the Evanston program continued.

After Wesley Memorial Hospital moved to the Chicago campus in 1941, the nursing school was re-opened in affiliation with the University. Courses in anatomy and related sciences were taught by the medical school faculty. Wesley adopted Northwestern’s grading and quarter system to coincide with the University’s academic calendar, in anticipation of establishment of a baccalaureate degree nursing program.

In 1943, the University approved a five-year combined Registered Nurse/Bachelor of Science degree awarded through its College of Liberal Arts. That same year, the University established a program for graduate nurses leading to the Bachelor of Philosophy degree. In order to facilitate the degree program, admission requirements at Wesley were raised, with nursing school applicants required to have graduated in the top one third of their high school class.

In 1948 Passavant Memorial Hospital announced plans to reopen its nursing school. A joint committee of the Hospital and the University agreed to supervise instruction on the wards, in the laboratories, and in the classroom. The school, named the James Ward Thorne School of Nursing, opened in 1951.

A nurse sets up dialysis treatment in 1973

Wesley and Passavant nursing schools began working together for educational reform. Faculty from the University’s affiliated nursing schools (Wesley, James Ward Thorne, and Evanston) formed the Northwestern University Council on Nursing, which coordinated the schools’ combined degree programs: a three-year program leading to a Diploma of Graduate Nurse; a five-year program leading to a Bachelor of Science degree with Diploma of Graduate Nurse; or a five-year program leading to a PhB degree with Diploma of Graduate Nurse.

In the 1960s, the Council on Nursing set as its goal the creation of a four-year integrated collegiate nursing program at the University. The combined diploma/BS/PhB programs were not accredited by the National League of Nursing and were phased out in the early 1960s as a result of continuing difficulties in transferring credits to graduate-level nursing programs.

Despite years of discussion, a number of studies, and the formation of several task forces, significant progress was not made toward development of a baccalaureate nursing program at the University.
In 1969, the frustration of both schools’ administration was manifested in a recommendation that the words “affiliated with Northwestern University” be omitted from Wesley and James Ward Thorne diplomas, and that participation in the University commencement ceremonies be discontinued.

With the formation of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in 1972, both Passavant Memorial and Chicago Wesley Memorial hospitals anticipated a degree-granting program to be established by the University as a part of their formal academic program and that the merger of the two nursing schools was considered an interim measure. The official name chosen was the Wesley Passavant School of Nursing.

Nursing graduation ceremony from 1974

The University created a division of Allied Health Sciences in 1973. Planning proceeded, admitting the first class in 1979. Students in the program earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University. In 1978, the Wesley-Passavant School of Nursing admitted a final class in its traditional three-year program, designed primarily for high-school graduates with the last graduation ceremony in 1981.

The Evanston Hospital School of Nursing closed in 1984.

The Programs in Nursing Education of the University established a graduate program in 1982. Its major objectives were to develop leaders who were prepared to advance nursing knowledge and initiate improvements in healthcare systems and to provide a cadre of scholars who would have a theoretical and research base to pursue doctoral study.

The Program was granted independent status as a new University Center for Nursing in 1985, but its existence was very short-lived. Without warning, the University announced the closing of the Center in 1988 and phased out the programs in 1990. The Provost of the University cited a deficit, declining enrollments in the undergraduate program, and the presence of several less expensive nursing programs at public institutions in the area as reasons for the closing.

Through a span of 85 years, more than 5,100 graduates in the various nursing programs affiliated with the University have provided health and nursing services to many generations. Some are still in practice today.

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Co-education at the Medical School

As an experiment in the fall session of 1869, the Chicago Medical College registered three women. However the male students complained quite vociferously that with women in the classroom, some clinical work and lecture material were omitted. At the end of the spring session of 1870, the Faculty Committee terminated the experiment. Only Dr. Mary Harris Thompson was awarded an MD ad eundem (a courtesy given to those who already had an MD). The other two women were not allowed to continue their studies.

The debate concerning the admission of women continued for nearly five decades, with the usual decision of tabling the discussion.

In December 1923, Mrs. Montgomery Ward provided the funding for a new Medical Center, giving additional impetus to the debate. The University administration asked the Medical Council to state its policy on the subject.

Finally the announcement that women would be admitted was made on May 31, 1924, and the first women students registered in the fall of 1926.

A quota of four women students was set for admission―four being the number needed for an anatomical dissecting team. This token number persisted until 1963, when nine women were registered.

First-year students from the Class of 1932 included a quota of four women, all seated in the front row.

The 1970s marked a greater increase of women entering and graduating from medical school. By 1978 there were 60 women medical students in attendance at Northwestern University Medical School. This increase was due to both political and cultural changes. The Higher Education Amendments of 1972―known as Title IX―and the Public Health Service Act of 1975 banned discrimination on the grounds of gender.

So much has changed over the years at Northwestern that today’s medical school cohorts are comprised of 40 percent or more women in the classroom, and there are plenty of female instructors from a multitude of specialties teaching the art of medicine to the next generation of physicians.

That’s all for now,


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Medicine, Surgery and Military Conflicts — Northwestern’s Contribution to War Efforts

Since the founding of the medical school in 1859 the faculty, students, staff, and graduates have been ready to provide their medical and surgical expertise in times of strife and conflict.

Edmund Andrews, MD (1824-1904), one of the medical school’s founders, acquired notable battlefield experience as surgeon in the First Illinois Regiment of Light Artillery during the American Civil War (1861-1865) when he saw heavy action during Grant’s campaign in Tennessee.

Dr. Andrews’ letters were published in the Chicago Medical Examiner during 1862 which described his observations of surgeries, conditions of the camps and hospitals, and overall health of the troops.

Allen A. Wesley, MD (1856-1929), was a graduate of the class of 1887 and one of the founders of Provident Hospital. During the Spanish-American War (1898), Major Wesley was appointed to the medical examining board for all medical officers serving in Cuba, the first African American to hold such a position.

Major Wesley and other medical officers who were stationed in Cuba.

Nicholas Senn, MD (1844 to 1908), was a graduate of the medical school’s class of 1868. In 1884, he was appointed Brigadier General of the Wisconsin National Guard. He founded the Association of Military Surgeons in 1892 and was appointed the Surgeon General of the Illinois National Guard in 1893.

During the Spanish  American War he was commissioned Lt. Colonel and Chief Surgeon of U.S. Volunteers.

Lucy Gaynor, MD, graduated with honors from Northwestern University Woman’s Medical School in 1891. Dr. Gaynor was endorsed by the Friend’s Missionary Board and in 1892 sailed to Nanking, China, to begin two decades of missionary work as the city’s first female physician. She established a hospital and a training school for nurses.

On December  6, 1911, Nanking fell to revolutionary forces; by December 10, Dr. Gaynor and her staff opened an emergency field hospital where she contracted typhus and died on April 22,1912.

World War I – France

In October 1916, Dr. Frederick Besley began organizing a general hospital unit to assist the Allied war effort in Europe. Medical officers were recruited from Northwestern University’s medical school with others from Rush Medical College and the University of Illinois College of Medicine. The nurses were recruited from Cook County, Mercy, Augustana, and Evanston hospitals. Many of the enlisted men had been students at Northwestern and other universities in the Chicago area. This unit was called the United States Army Base Hospital Number 12.

Dr. Besley, commissioned a major, became director and chief of surgical services for the unit. It left Chicago on May 16, 1917, landed at Boulogne, France, on June 11, and set up headquarters at Dannes-Camier. The unit replaced the British Expeditionary Force’s Base Hospital No. 18, freeing the British staff for duty closer to the front line.Barracks at Dannes-Camier, France, 1917


For the next 22 months, the unit operated a 1,200- to 1,500-bed tent-and-hut hospital, treating some 60,000 patients, mostly British soldiers. Occasional German air raids in the area created dangers beyond the usual hazards of disease and accident. Most of the officers, nurses, and enlisted men returned to the United States in April, 1919.

World War II – Algeria and Italy

J. Roscoe Miller, MD ’30, dean of the medical school, and Michael L. Mason, MD ’24, PhD ’31, were responsible for the re-activation of Base Hospital No. 12 as the 12th General Hospital in 1942.

Dr. Mason had served the unit in World War I as sergeant in charge of orderlies. Alumni and faculty were the nucleus of the 2,000-bed general hospital, which included eight operating rooms.

At home, the medical school curriculum was accelerated by scheduling continuous classes.

The Northwestern unit was stationed at Ain-El-Turck, Algeria, December 1942-December 1943; and in Italy, successively at Naples, Rome, and Livorno. The personnel worked in rehabilitation of casualties, infectious disease, and combat and war fatigue. The unit was inactivated September 15, 1945.

A letter from U.S. Army Surgeon General Kirk to university administrators sums up the role Northwestern faculty, students, and alumni played in World War I and II:

“I realize what a serious deprivation it has been for your University to meet its manifold responsibilities with so many of its ablest members in the 12th General Hospital…that your contribution has been of inestimable value to the Army Medical Service, particularly to our soldier patients.“

Unfortunately, the medical school has little or no history of the men and women who served in the Korean and Viet Nam conflicts or those who may have been involved in Operation Desert Storm, Iraq, or Afghanistan.

Anyone willing to share photographs, recollections or personal histories?

That’s all for now,


Training at the Chicago Maternity Center

Alumnus Tim Hunter, MD ’68, sent Ward Rounds journal entries from his training days as a fourth-year medical student, serving for two weeks at the Chicago Maternity Center. Here we share some excerpts and invite you to tell us about your experiences.

In addition, alumnus David Kerns, MD ’68, is writing a book about his experiences at the CMC that is due out in 2013. “Fortnight on Maxwell Street:  A Novel is “true fiction,” a medical student’s trial-by-fire delivering babies in Chicago’s housing projects and tenements in the early spring of 1968. It is a tale of fear and courage, choice and consequence, set amid extreme poverty and racial tension in the days immediately preceding and following the assassination of Martin Luther King.

The Chicago Maternity Center, January 1968

January 14, 1968


Getting off the “L” at Halsted was very weird – nobody around, fresh snow by the Circle campus, and a sinking feeling in my stomach. At 9:05 I arrived at the Maternity Center, a dump of a building at the corner of Newbury and Maxwell. Dr. Jack Casper oriented us as to our duties and then turned us over to Jane, a nurse who talked for 2-3 hours on the setups and equipment we would be using. About this time, I volunteered to go out with Jack and Betty Lou for a call concerning a para XIII, gr XII who was bleeding.

Her home was 9000 South and 3000 East in a marginal neighborhood. She had only a small room to herself… What an incredible experience. She had 12 children in foster homes, her husband was in Mexico (won’t return), goofy neighbors coming in asking for TV Guides.  Finally, we determined she was not in labor, but we had the police take her to Cook County, since she was evidently bleeding at least a small amount.

Fourth-year medical students Gary London, David Kerns, and Al Robbins

January 17, 1968


Wednesday morning showed up for clinic. Dr. Orion really raked me with questions. The afternoon was fun. Left at 4 pm for an unregistered case at 1300 North and 1300 West. Appalachians – the husband who had severe amblyopia of the left eye met us and was very excited. The woman was having mild contractions every 3 to 4 minutes cervix post and undilated. Donna and Tina were along. After one hour, I gave the patient two grains of Phenobarbital. Then examined her an hour later.  She was the same. It turns out she was scheduled to go to Wesley anyway, but the husband was broke and also didn’t think he had the time to take her there. We declared a false labor and instructed the husband and his mother to take his wife to Wesley via the police if any trouble or pains came up.

Came back to the Center at 8:30 pm. Donna and Karen fixed me an egg sandwich and fried potatoes. Very good.  Watched Johnson’s State of the Union Message. Argued about Vietnam for two hours with Dave Kerns. Went to bed.

The Booth House is where fourth-year medical students lived during their stints at the Chicago Maternity Center, 1968.

January 20, 1968


Got called at 3:50 this morning. Went out to see Mrs. Bootes – 26 year old gr III, para ? carrying twins transverse lie plus double footling breech. At first strong contractions every 2 to 3 minutes. Cervix undilated. Jack said to watch her for awhile and then give her Phenobarbital to rest her. Must be careful with this case – could lose the breech. She finally fell asleep without the Phenobarbital. We declared a false labor and left at 6:30 am. Later today Al Robbins went out with her and spent 5 to 6 hours before another false labor was declared.

Bob and I went over to the Center for dinner -mass confusion: dinner closed, many cases. Bob went out to see the primagravida again. (Third time today she has been seen.) Right now watching Jackie Gleason. First up waiting for a call.



A group of medical students who were doing a rotation at Evanston Memorial Hospital, circa 1968. Standing: Edward Ochsner, Theodore Ning, Jr, David Feldman, and Michael King. Seated middle row: Tim Hunter, William Burkhardt, III, and Jon Smucker. Front row: Gary London, Neil Stone, Arthur Feldman, and Raymond Hopkins.


January 22, 1968


I am now second up. Al has had three hours sleep in the last 48 hours – he is first up. So far, I have had only four deliveries, Al 10. He has had all the good cases, but has had to work for them. I will shower and go to bed. Got called at 2 am. Went out with Tina and a student nurse – a MUD on South side. The cord had snapped but no bleeding from the mother or the fetus. Child was 1.5 months premature but weighed 5.5 pounds. Had a tight foreskin. Good cry. No other problems.