Weill Cornell Medicine: A History of Cornell's Medical School by Antonio M. Gotto, Jr., and Jennifer Moon (review)
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Reviewed by
Antonio M. Gotto, Jr., and Jennifer Moon. Weill Cornell Medicine: A History of Cornell's Medical School. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2016. xx + 286 pp. Ill. $29.95 ( 978-1-5017-0213-6).

Weill Cornell Medicine is a valuable contribution to the history of medical education in the United States. There are relatively few histories of medical schools, and most are celebratory volumes that do not incorporate information gleaned from archival records. This institutional history provides insight into the challenges Cornell Medical College has faced since it was established by the trustees of Cornell University in 1898. The authors relied on internal reports, newspaper stories, interviews, and first-hand knowledge to explain how a series of deans and other top administrators confronted problems and seized opportunities.

Antonio Gotto, Jr., is a prominent academic physician and scientist who was dean of Weill Cornell Medical College from 1997 through 2011. Jennifer Moon is a writer and editor at the institution. Gotto and Moon deal with many themes, but they emphasize the evolution of teaching, research, clinical programs, and facilities. They explain how this prominent Manhattan-based institution responded to the stresses and strains of a series of transformations that characterized medical education, biomedical research, and patient care in the United States during the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

The book's ten chapter titles are short and descriptive: "Origins," "Clinical Innovation and a Historic Partnership [with the New York Hospital]," "A Move to Manhattan's Upper East Side," "The Medical School in Wartime," "Postwar Boom," "The Expansive 1960s," "A Decade of Malaise," "Discord and Disrepair," "Renaming and Rebirth," and "Forging Ahead in the Twenty-First Century." The authors do not compare and contrast Cornell Medical College with other medical schools, but they do explore how national events affected it. For example, they explain how its leaders responded to the Flexner Report, medical students' [End Page 454] demands for more meaningful hospital experiences, the Depression, World War II, the advent of the NIH, and the federal government's huge investment in biomedical research during the second half of the twentieth century.

Rather than punish readers with a dry recitation of facts and figures, the authors reward them with a lively narrative that provides perspective on the attitudes and actions of institutional leaders. The book focuses on the medical college's finances, personnel changes, and the ups and downs of its educational, research, and clinical programs. Gotto and Moon include some image-harming incidents, such as the death of teenager Libby Zion at New York Hospital in 1984, an event that catalyzed the development of new national guidelines regarding resident work hours. This story resonated with me because I had been an intern at the institution a dozen years earlier, when sleep deprivation was the norm in postgraduate medical training.

From the time Cornell University Medical College was established more than a century ago, philanthropy has played a major role in its growth and success. William Payne Whitney's 1927 bequest catalyzed the construction of a medical campus on Manhattan's Upper East Side, where the medical college was physically integrated into the New York Hospital, an iconic ivory-tower facility that opened in 1932. Since that time the two institutions have received hundreds of millions of dollars from philanthropists. The largest gift, from financier Sanford Weill and his wife, led to a new name, Weill Cornell Medical College, at the time of the institution's centennial in 1998. In 2015 the medical college's name was changed to Weill Cornell Medicine.

Weill Cornell Medicine contains few descriptions of patient care, but this is understandable given the authors' focus on a medical school rather than a hospital. The merger and renaming of the main teaching hospitals of Cornell and Columbia Universities is detailed in John A. Kastor's Mergers of Teaching Hospitals.1

The book ends with a quote from an interview of Gotto on the eve of his retirement as dean. In response to a question about his legacy at Cornell, he said, "I hope that this is a place where students will want to come, where doctors will want to practice and do research...