Recent Advances in the Medical Sciences; their Application to Public Health
Introduction by George Baehr
Before describing to you some recent advances in the medical sciences which your Committee on Science Awards considers important to public health, I should like to pay a tribute of appreciation to the donors of the Albert and Mary Lasker Awards for outstanding scientific and administrative achievements. I especially applaud their wisdom in entrusting to the American Public Health Association the selection of the recipients of these awards. It indicates their understanding of the fact that the prompt utilization of scientific medical discovery for the prevention of disease is the function of the public health profession, as much as it is the function of the profession of medicine.
As a practitioner of medicine and also, I hope, as a student of public health and medical administration, I object to the definition of preventive medicine solely as a branch of medical practice. To my mind, preventive medicine is the application of all existing medical knowledge to the prevention of disease. It cannot be divorced from public health practice or even social work, and must not be relegated to medicine as a monopoly.
Curiously enough, as Alan Gregg has pointed out, there is not a word about preventive medicine in the ancient Hippocratic Oath which for centuries all physicians have taken on entering the practice of medicine. If our modern medical schools had not been so completely concerned with teaching curative medicine, this obvious deficiency would have been corrected long ago and the Hippocratic Oath, like a public health law, would by this time have been appropriately amended. Some minor, but still inadequate improvements have been made in recent years in the curriculum of undergraduate teaching, but hardly enough to turn an adequate portion of medical effort into the direction of disease prevention. For this requires the cultivation of an abiding interest in the homes and habits of the people and in the vagaries of human behavior, from which stem most of the spiritual as well as the physical ills of mankind.
Aside from educational handicaps of physicians conditioned by the necessity for concentration upon the recognition and cure of existing disease, the medical profession cannot for a variety of reasons take full advantage of the opportunities for the control of disease which are presented by the great scientific advances of the day. Perhaps the most important handicap is materialistic, the fact that under our present system of payment of physicians, the financial rewards are almost wholly for diagnosis and treatment.
Top row, left to right: Alexander Weiner, Carl Cori, Philip Levine; Bottom row, left to right: John Mahoney, Alfred Richards, George Baehr