The [Not So] “Good Old Days”

By Leslie

I am currently reading the volume entitled “Bellevue. Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital.” It is truly a story of medicine in America (and to some degree, abroad). What memories it evokes.

When I applied to medical school, I chose four institutions: University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Johns Hopkins, and, at my parents’ behest (inveterate New Yorkers as they were), Cornell Medical College. I was incredibly fortunate and was accepted at three of the four schools, including my first choice, the University of Chicago. Only Cornell rejected my application outright.

As the first year of medical school in Chicago was drawing to a close, I received a letter from the New York State Commission on Discrimination. It appeared that my application to Cornell was rejected on the basis of their quota system. I fit into all excluded categories except race – gender, religion and socio-economic status. I was asked to allow use of my name in the suit against the medical school, and in return, would be guaranteed a position in the next year’s class at Cornell. I agreed – with one definite provision – my parents should never be told of this offer, And I declined entrance into the Cornell Medical College second year class.

Cornell went on, as did many other medical schools – but far from all – to abandon (at least in part) their quota system. Johns Hopkins University, however, like so many others, did not admit a black medical student until the 1970s, perhaps as the book’s author conjectures, a reflection of its more “southerly location.” Perhaps!

But back to Bellevue. Like Cook County Hospital where I interned, it truly represented America. It welcomed and cared for “its poor (&) huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Amongst those it welcomed were my maternal grandparents, and like so many other public medical institutions, it continues to do so today.

February 2017