Thomas Jefferson University

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Jefferson's History & Development

Dr. George McClellan and his colleagues founded the "Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia" in 1824 with the firm but then outrageous belief that medical students should participate, under proper supervision, in the diagnosis and care of patients. However scandalous and unorthodox his views may have seemed, they proved so popular that it soon became necessary to move classes from Dr. McClellan's own office to the Old Tivoli Theater at 518-20 Prune Street (now Locust Walk). On May 9th, 1825, Dr. McClellan performed the first operation in the new infirmary, and Jefferson was well on its way to becoming the largest private medical school in the country. After two years, this space proved insufficient and plans were made to build facilities at 10th and Sansom Streets. These were opened in August of 1828.

The name was derived from the Jefferson College at Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, whose board of trustees met in the summer of 1824, to formally act upon a letter requesting the establishment of a medical school under their aegis but located in Philadelphia. Formal recognition by the board was received in October 1824. Articles of union were signed, and the first class was graduated from Jefferson Medical College on April 19th, 1826. Since that time, the number of graduates has totaled more than 27,000 of whom more than 9,700 are living. A class has graduated every year since 1826, except 1944 when, due to wartime needs, two classes were graduated.

The popularity of Dr. McClellan's clinical approach and the talents of the other faculty members were indisputable, and expansion became essential. In 1838 the Pennsylvania Legislature granted an independent charter with full university rights and privileges to the "Jefferson Medical College". Doctorates of philosophy have been granted since 1949, nursing certificates since 1893, and the College of Health Professions granted its first baccalaureate degrees in 1972. The postgraduate program of the College of Graduate Studies has granted over 650 degrees.

Jefferson's faculties and alumni through the years have been recognized for their outstanding contributions to medicine. Washington L. Atlee (Class of 1829) was a popular authority on abdominal surgery. James Marion Sims (Class of 1835) is known as the "father" of modern study of neurology, and Dr. Keen later performed the first successful removal of a brain tumor in America that led to a cure. Carlos Finlay (Class of 1855) discovered the carrier of yellow fever. Samuel David Gross (Class of 1828) is recognized as the outstanding surgeon of the 19th century. He is immortalized in the famous portrait, "The Gross Clinic," painted by Thomas Eakins, who studied anatomy at Jefferson. Jefferson graduates were instrumental in the founding of ten medical schools in the United States.

A new faculty was established in 1841 and contributed significantly to medical progress in the 19th century. One of these, Dr. Robley Dunglison, had been the personal physician to Thomas Jefferson and became known as the "Father" of American human physiology.

Jonathan Letterman (Class of 1849) conceived of and implemented America's first effective ambulance corps system for the removal of wounded from the battlefield during the Civil War. At least two dozen major hospitals have been named for Jefferson Alumni, including Colonel Letterman. Jonathan Messersmith Foltz (Class of 1830) was not only the first White House physician, but also the first Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy. J. Chalmers DaCosta (Class of 1885), editor of Gray's Anatomy and of an English edition of Zuckerkandl's Operative Surgery, and author of "A Manual of Operative Surgery", was selected to attend President Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Chevalier Jackson (Class of 1886), whose improvements in the design of the bronchoscope and innovative bronchoscopy. He occupied chairs in five Philadelphia medical schools simultaneously, all of which had been created especially for him.

Jefferson's leadership was recognized in 1910 when Abraham Flexner published his influential report that stressed science as a proper base for medical education in the United States. Flexner wrote, "A Good library, excellently administered, is to be found at Jefferson, at Buffalo, and at Galvestone." Flexner cited these libraries as exceptions to the general picture at that time. In all, 19 of the 42 Presidents have been treated by Jefferson alumni or faculty before, during, or after their terms of office.

In 1870, the Jefferson Alumni Association was founded by Samuel D. Gross, who was also its first president. It quickly demonstrated its loyalty by an immediate response to an appeal for a separate hospital building, which was opened in 1877. Although the College had always provided hospital facilities in the interests of its students and the public, this was Jefferson's first structure specifically for this purpose. The following are among the most illustrious of Jefferson's more recent faculty and alumni: John H. Gibbon, Jr. (Class of 1927), who opened a new era in cardiac surgery with the development of the heart-lung machine; Hobart A. Reimann and John H. Hodges (Class of 1939) who substantiated a viral cause for pneumonia and gastroenteritis; James M. Hunter (Class of 1953), who developed the first artificial tendon for use in the rehabilitation of impaired hands; Allen J. Erslev, who was the first to demonstrate the existence of a renal hormone that stimulated red blood cell production, later known as erythropoietin; Benjamin Kendall, who made it possible to obtain a prenatal electrocardiogram; Laird Jackson, who developed a method for first-trimester diagnosis of severe congenital disease; and Robert C. Gallo (Class of 1963), who isolated interleuken-2 and associated the HIV virus with AIDS. Darwin J. Prockop, former director of the Institute of Molecular Medicine, discovered the defective gene responsible for producing aortic aneurysms and a gene that causes a type of familial arthritis. Carlo M. Croce, an internationally renowned genetics who founded the Kimmel Cancer Institute and the Kimmel Cancer Center, discovered the involvement of immunoglobulin loci and the C-myc oncogene in Burkitt's lymphoma, and identified the gene, bcl-2, that is involved in follicular lymphoma.

During the 1996-97 fiscal year, faculty members were awarded more than $75 million of sponsored research. Currently, more than 3,000 full-time, part-time, and voluntary, active faculty members provide instruction to approximately 900 medical students.

On July 1st, 1969, Thomas Jefferson University was established. It includes Jefferson Medical College, the College of Graduate Studies, and the College of Health Professions. Jefferson Medical College has been recognized as the most balanced medical school in the country, and approximately one fourth of all medical school applicants throughout the country apply to Jefferson.


In addition, the Continuing Medical Education program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education; and the Residency program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Thomas Jefferson University is a member of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.