Lessons for Today from Nine Greats Who Helped Create Hopkins Medicine

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Brought to you by Hopkins at Home 

July 1, 2020 - July 22, 2020 (4 weeks)

Wednesdays, 5:00 PM - 6:00PM EDT

The founding of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine fundamentally changed medicine in America. In the blink of an eye, medicine was transformed from a trade practiced by poorly educated craftsmen, to a science practiced by highly educated physicians. While this transformation may seem perfectly obvious in retrospect, the challenges were significant. This four-part, lecture-based course will tell the story of the founding of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and will be told through the lives of nine extraordinary individuals- John Shaw Billings, Mary Elizabeth Garrett, William Halsted, Jesse Lazear, William Osler, Helen Taussig, Vivien Thomas and William Welch. Each faced enormous challenges and had unimaginable impact. There are many lessons to learn from the way they each lived their lives. 

Join Dr. Ralph Hruban, Director of Pathology and Distinguished Alumnus, as he guides you through the inspirational journeys of these early Hopkins leaders. Together, share in their personal stories and discuss the ways in which the lessons of history can prepare us to face life's challenges.

Session 1Wednesday, July 1, 5:00 PM - 6:00PM EDT

Uncompromising vision


We will start with the stories of two of the founders of the School of Medicine, Mary Elizabeth Garrett and John Shaw Billings. Their unbending vision in the face of enormous opposition set the standards that would define Johns Hopkins Medicine.  

  • Mary Elizabeth Garrett’s philanthropy rescued the University and allowed for the medical school to be built. Despite great opposition from the President of the University and from many others, she insisted that the medical school have high standards, and she insisted that it admit women on an equal basis as men. She won, and in so doing she made the medical school great. 

  •  A civil war hero, John Shaw Billings was asked to design the buildings that would make up the original hospital. He did much more than simply lay out architectural plans. He helped establish the philosophy of the school, that of science applied to medicine, and he selected the school’s critical early leaders. And you won’t believe what he accomplished after that! 


  1. Mary Elizabeth Garrett:  Society and Philanthropy in the Gilded Age.  By Kathleen Waters Sander. Johns Hopkins Press, 2008. 

  1. Order out of Chaos: John Shaw Billings and America’s Coming of Age.  By Carleton B. Chapman. Science History Pubs, 1994. 

  1. https://youtu.be/WyK81mzOoN8 YouTube video about Mary Elizabeth Garrett 

  1. https://youtu.be/mP0lYLSL5UM YouTube video about John Shaw Billings 

  2. Early contributions to the Johns Hopkins hospital by the “other” surgeon: John Shaw Billings.  By John L. Cameron. Ann Surg, volume 234:267-78. 2001.

Session 2Wednesday, July 8, 5:00 PM - 6:00PM EDT

Exemplars for generations  


In week two, we will tell the stories of two of the School of Medicine’s first leaders.  Drs. William Welch and William Halsted Osler.  

  • William Henry Welch was born in a small town in Connecticut. At the age of 80 he was honored on the cover of Time magazine. “Popsy,” as he was fondly called, trained the first generation of physician-scientists in this country. He became the face of Hopkins, and helped propagate the vision of medicine that was created at Hopkins.  In so doing Hopkins became “a model of its kind.”
  • Sir William Osler is arguably the greatest physician North America has ever produced.  His life philosophy formed what it means to be a physician.  Much of what he taught is as applicable today as it was 100 years ago.  


  1. William Henry Welch and the Heroic Age of American Medicine.  By Simon and James Flexner. Viking Press, 1941. 

  1. William Osler:  A Life in Medicine. By Michael Bliss. Oxford University Press, 1999. 

  1. https://youtu.be/8Qit3w-7xrc YouTube video about William Henry Welch 

  1. https://youtu.be/-gbfyZrDHGQ YouTube video about William Osler 

  1. http://pathology.jhu.edu/department/about/history/osler-minutes.cfm. A series of brief audio recordings, “Osler minutes,” each on an aspect of Osler’s teachings (the first minute of each recording is the same, so after you have listened to one, just skip ahead on the subsequent “minutes”). 

Session 3Wednesday, July 15, 5:00 PM - 6:00PM EDT

Sacrifice in the name of science 


In week three, we will tell the stories of two dedicated physicians who made unimaginable personal sacrifices to fight human suffering. 

  • William Stewart Halsted, the first director of Surgery, is “…generally regarded as the most innovative and influential surgeon the United States has produced.” From the introduction of surgical gloves, to the promulgation of careful and safe surgery, to the introduction of residency training, Halsted fundamentally transformed surgery. He did so despite carrying a terrible crushing personal burden.  

  • Jesse Lazear, a young pathologist at Hopkins, volunteered to fight a deadly infectious disease that was ravaging the Caribbean islands, the United States and Central America.  In 1899 he joined the Yellow Fever Board in Cuba.   “With more than the courage and devotion of a soldier, he risked and lost his life to show how a fearful pestilence is communicated and how its ravages may be prevented.”  


  1. William Stewart Halsted, Surgeon.  By William MacCallum and William H. Welch. Johns Hopkins Press, 1930. 

  1. http://halstedthedocumentary.org/screenings.php  

  1. Yellow Jack: How Yellow Fever Ravaged America and Walter Reed Discovered Its Deadly Secrets. By John Pierce and James Writer. John Wiley & Sons, 2005. 

  1. https://youtu.be/JMqX8vfwDrg YouTube video we made on William Stewart Halsted 

  2. William Stewart Halsted:  Our surgical heritage.  By John L. Cameron.  Ann Surg, volume 225: 445-58, 1997.

Session 4Wednesday, July 22, 5:00 PM - 6:00PM EDT

Facing discrimination 


In the fourth and final week, we will chronicle three lives; each marked by great accomplishment and unimaginable discrimination. Two of the three, Vivien Thomas and Helen Taussig, were critical contributors to the birth of cardiac surgery- the “Blue Baby” operation. 

  • Dorothy Reed was a member of the School of Medicine’s class of 1900. As a fellow she made a ground breaking discovery. She identified and characterized the cell that causes Hodgkin Lymphoma, the cell we now call the “Reed-Sternberg cell.”  Her reward? She was denied a faculty position at Hopkins because of her sex. 

  • The grandson of a slave, Vivien Thomas conducted the critical experiments that formed the basis of the “Blue baby” heart operations at Hopkins.  He stood at the side of the surgeon Alfred Blalock and guided him during the first operation.  Vivien’s work was masterful, as described by Alfred Blalock; “Vivien, this looks like something the Lord made.” Yet, because of his race, Vivien was not allowed to enter the hospital through the main entrance.  He had to enter through a back door.  

  • The “mother of pediatric cardiology,” Helen Taussig made a critical observation that led to the “Blue Baby” operation.   Nearly deaf later in life, her clinical skills were so great that she was able to use the feel of her fingers to determine the rhythm of a baby’s heartbeat. 


  1. Dorothy in a Man’s World.  By Peter Dawson. CreativeSpace Independent Publishing, 2016. 

  1. Partners of the Heart: Vivien Thomas and His Work with Alfred Blalock: An Autobiography. By Vivien T. Thomas. University of Pennsylvania Press.

  1. Something the Lord Made (DVD).  Starring Alan Rickman and Mos Def.  HBO Home Movie Video, 2004. 

  1. https://youtu.be/tPhVQHYDRTI YouTube video on Vivien Thomas 

  2. PBS documentary on "Partners of the Hearts" https://sparkmedia.org/projects/partners-of-the-heart/#  

For those of you with a deeper interest in the history of medicine, Dr. Hruban suggests that you consider a unique on-line program offered by the Department of the History of Medicine here at Johns Hopkins (https://hopkinshistoryofmedicine.org/content/online-program-history-medicine). They offer individual on-line courses as well as Certificate and MA Degree programs.  The faculty are simply fantastic, the best in the world, and since these are on-line offerings, these courses are ideal ways to do something productive during the pandemic! 

ABOUT Ralph Hruban
Professor of Pathology and Oncology; Baxley Professor and Director of the Department of Pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Dr. Ralph Hruban is a Professor of Pathology and Oncology and the Baxley Professor and Director of the Department of Pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.  He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago and is a 1985 Johns Hopkins School of Medicine alumnus.  He completed his residency training at Hopkins and he spent one year as a Fellow at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.  After completing his fellowship, Dr. Hruban returned to Johns Hopkins in 1990 to join the faculty.   

Dr. Hruban is also currently the Director of The Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center at Johns Hopkins.  The pancreatic cancer research team at Johns Hopkins contains many of the world’s leading experts in pancreatic cancer.  Through their extensive research, they have discovered many of the fundamental genetic changes that drive pancreatic cancer.    

Dr. Hruban has received numerous awards including the PanCAN Medical Visionary Award, the Team Science Award from the American Association for Cancer Research (2013, 2017, and 2020), the Frank H. Netter Award for Special Contributions to Medical Education, the Ranice W. Crosby Distinguished Achievement Award for scholarly contributions to the advancement of art as applied to the sciences, and the 2013 Johns Hopkins University Distinguished Alumni Award.  In 2013 he was elected a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. Dr. Hruban has also received five teaching awards from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, including the Educational Innovation Award.           

Dr. Hruban has written more than 800 scientific papers, and seven books. He helped create the Johns Hopkins Pancreatic Cancer Web Page (http://pathology.jhu.edu/pc ), and produced an award winning documentary on the life of the surgeon William Stewart Halsted (http://halstedthedocumentary.org/screenings.php).  

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 Event Date
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Start Time: 5:00pm EDT


Via Zoom
Baltimore, MD 21224

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