This is adapted from Dr. Frantz’s opening remarks in May 2002 at the first P&S Class Day. Class Day enables P&S to present student awards separately from the P&S commencement on the following day. Dr. Frantz is professor of medicine and associate dean at P&S. He has chaired the admissions committee since 1981.

It’s nice to be able to take pride in an institution you belong to, and there are many reasons for taking pride in P&S. One of these is the history of the place. As you all know, P&S is an extremely old institution and the first medical school to award the M.D. degree on this continent. Its history in the 20th century is particularly remarkable, because it took the form of a birth that amounted virtually to a new creation.
In the early years of the 20th century almost all medical schools in America were completely separate institutions from the hospital where students were allowed to train, and relations between the two were often very strained. In 1908 Edward Harkness, the great philanthropist, conceived the idea of joining a major university in New York with a prominent hospital, to create a great teaching institution where practitioners would join with full-time researchers to train students, and all operations from basic laboratory research to patient care would be carried out at a single locus.
He selected P&S as the school and began discussions with Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia University. At that time the P&S buildings were scattered on the west side in an area close to Roosevelt Hospital, and it seemed natural to approach Roosevelt, of which Harkness was a trustee, as the main hospital of the proposed merger. But the plan involved a great expansion of the two institutions, and because there was not enough available space around Roosevelt, it meant a move to a new site, and the trustees of Roosevelt were unwilling to make such a move.
Harkness therefore resigned from the board of trustees and approached Presbyterian Hospital, an old building in some need of repair located on 70th Street and Madison Avenue. The trustees of Presbyterian accepted Harkness’ offer, but it was not until 1921 that a final agreement between Columbia and Presbyterian was ratified and the present site selected. Harkness had a great vision for the future and felt that a large area of land would be necessary.
He looked at three sites, beginning with the one later chosen by Cornell on the east side, but then occupied largely by a brewery. He felt that that site, which was only about half as large as the one we now occupy, was too small to allow for all the necessary buildings plus future expansion. He also examined the site on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx, now occupied by Albert Einstein, which he also felt was unsuitable. He therefore settled on the Washington Heights site, which offered 22 acres — a very large area for Manhattan — and was the home to a baseball field used largely by the New York Highlanders, the forerunner of the New York Yankees.
Harkness and his mother purchased this entire tract of land and gave it to the institution. He also gave most of the money used to build the new Presbyterian Hospital itself, as well as many of the other buildings, including Bard Hall — benefactions totaling many millions of dollars in those days and probably worth close to a billion in today’s currency. He is without doubt the father of this institution, but he was averse to self-promotion and only allowed his family’s name to be used on one of the smallest buildings, the hospital’s private patient wing named for his father. [Mr. Harkness later gave funds to build an eye institute, which today carries his name.]
Construction on this site began in 1925 and was mostly completed by 1928, at which time the move uptown took place. This was a major event not only locally but also on the national scene. Encyclopedia Britannica in 1930 devoted a considerable part of its article on hospitals to this institution, including artist’s drawings and a full-page photograph of the entire complex, citing it as part of a new era in American medicine. One problem that arose was what to call it. It was clearly more than just a hospital, comprising as it did not only Presbyterian Hospital but also Babies Hospital, the Sloane Hospital for Women, the Neurological Institute, the Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Institute, and others, so the term Medical Center was coined. Now, of course, practically every hospital calls itself a medical center, but in those days there was just one, and if you got into a taxicab in the late ‘20s or early ‘30s and said, “Take me to the Medical Center,” this was where they took you.
I know personally something of the excitement the opening of this medical center caused because both of my parents were young faculty members at the time. Both had gone to P&S, where they got married as second-year students and graduated in 1922. Both had done their residencies at the old Presbyterian Hospital, my mother in surgery and my father in neurology. Both of them were tremendously excited by the new opportunities offered in research, teaching, and patient care and by the recruitment of new outstanding faculty members, a significant number of whom came here from Johns Hopkins.
When I myself entered as a first-year student in 1951 I really fell in love with the place. It still looked pretty much as it had in the early 30s. Most students lived in Bard Hall — I spent four years there myself. Though the towers had not yet been built there were a number of apartments available in older buildings along Haven Avenue. Since then, of course, there has been a tremendous amount of new construction: The doctors private office building and the Black Building in the early 60s, the tower apartments around 1970, the Hammer Health Sciences building, the Milstein Hospital Building, the new Psychiatric Institute, the new research buildings across Broadway, and so forth.
But what has remained very much is the spirit of the place. My classmates seemed to me not only a remarkably talented group, but also an interesting and very likable one, and these characteristics have continued. The friendships that I made here have been, on the whole, more numerous, more solid, and more enduring than those I made in college. I did my residency in internal medicine at Presbyterian Hospital and a two-year fellowship here in endocrinology. After that I spent two years of obligatory service in the Navy followed by four years of further endocrine research at Harvard at the Massachusetts General Hospital. That was interesting and fun, but I am a New Yorker and I was very happy to be asked to come back here and set up an endocrine research lab in the newly opened Black Building, working mostly on prolactin and growth hormone.
I later served as chief of the Division of Endocrinology, but after a time I also became head of the Admissions Committee, and for pure fun I can think of nothing more rewarding.
The fact is that medical students — you — are a very special group of people. Not only are medical students very bright, but the ones we get at P&S are also gifted with many diverse talents and interests, and that is what we look for. But what is most gratifying to me is the sheer high spirits of our students. I get dozens of letters every year — many hundreds in total over the years — from applicants who say that now that they have interviewed at a number of medical schools P&S has become their clear first choice, and the basis of this is the students they met here — students who led the tours or more often just dropped by the waiting room to talk the place up and tell them that this was the place they had to come to if they were lucky enough to be accepted.
At no other schools did the applicant find such a lively, enthusiastic, and interesting bunch of people, and these were the people he or she wanted to spend the next four years with.
A few years ago I got a letter from a first-year student I had interviewed and admitted the previous year. I had had almost no contact with him since he began school, but he wrote me in May of his first year to thank me for having admitted him, and saying that not only did he feel that he was getting an excellent education, but he had particularly enjoyed his fellow classmates. “With few exceptions,” he said, “I have found them to be bright, interesting, and normal — very different from the driven pre-meds I was exposed to at college.” I was amused and pleased at his use of the word normal. You are normal, in the sense that you have not let the rigors of medical school shut you out from those other activities that make for a balanced and well put together human being.
But in another sense you are not normal. You are too good to be normal — too far above the mean in almost every quality that we cherish and value in our fellow human beings. Whatever you are you are a terrific, wonderful group of people, and it has been a great privilege for me to have had a hand in choosing you. Thank you for coming here, for giving us your energies, your enthusiasm, your goodness, your love. I know you are going to make wonderful doctors.



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