The Academic Health Center History Project documents and preserves the institutional memory and historical events that chronicle the development of health sciences education and research at the University of Minnesota.


Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes, especially taxes.

Last week the United States Supreme Court provided its opinion on case No. 09-837 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Et al., Petitioners v. United States. The University of Minnesota Regents joined the petitioners that asked the question of the court: “Are medical residents students or employees?”

The unanimous opinion affirmed the Treasury Department’s rule that treats medical residents as full-time employees and subjects them to the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, or FICA tax.

The opinion is more than just a disappointment to the University; it’s the end of an era. Since 1951 when the Treasury Department applied its regulations defining the 1939 student exception to FICA, the University of Minnesota’s Medical School has tried to determine the status and eligibility of exemptions for medical residents, interns, and fellows.

View selected correspondence from deans Harold Diehl and Robert Howard discussing the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department’s positions and the process for classifying hospital interns, residents, and fellows in the 1950s.


No cavities

Nature abhors a vacuum. Apparently history does too.

Although the history of the health sciences at the University of Minnesota is ours to keep and preserve, we are not the only place to find our history. Our history is part of other histories such as Minnesota history and the history of science and medicine, and thus, is found in many different locations.

img0164.jpgA recent entry to Ben Welter’s regular feature “Yesterday’s News” on the Star Tribune web site reinforces the idea that our history is everywhere. The column highlighted an article from October 10, 1945 interviewing the then new dean of the School of Dentistry, William Crawford. The article demonstrates the role of the dental school in a modern age and the research behind the introduction of fluorine as a tool in dental health.

Welter accompanies the reprinted story with several photographs from the Minnesota Historical Society’s collections of the dental facilities. It is easy to understand the attention the University’s School of Dentistry received across the state and by the public in general.

Such recognition was not a first for the School of Dentistry. In 1923, the then College of Dentistry at the University received a straight A rating by the Dental Education Council of America. The Council noted “Certain institutions stand forth in the educational world because of their power to inspire students with the desire for knowledge and with the love of hard work… The University of Minnesota College of Dentistry is such an institution.” This is the dental equivalent to having no cavities.

The August 15, 1923 issue of Minnesota Chats, a publication by the University, recites more of the Council’s praise and discusses the role of the College of Dentistry in relation to the state. Read the full pamphlet below.


First mention

History is often focused on the first instance, the first mention in order to identify when something happened and how it relates to what followed. The New York Times offers a column ‘First Mention‘ that uses its own archives of news articles to determine when something was first reported. This isn’t too different from the way the Oxford English Dictionary traces the etymology of a word to its modern meaning.

As more and more documents are transferred to a digital format, our understanding of the ‘first’ of anything will become more accurate.

As an example, in the spring of 1954, the beginnings of open heart surgery took a major step forward at the University of Minnesota. A team of surgeons including C. Walt Lillehei, Richard Varco, Morley Cohen, and Herbert Warden developed and implemented a new technique called cross circulation.

On April 30th the University News Service held a news conference and issued a corresponding press release heralding the new achievement. Pushed out to the national media, the story of Dr. Lillehei’s success soon became a popular print and television phenomenon.

Historically, this was a major accomplishment in the world of surgery and captured the world’s attention.

From a digital archives perspective, we are now able to re-live those early first moments as presented to the public by locating the procedure’s first mention.

In addition to the New York Times’ pay service, offers free online access to their articles dating back to 1923. A simple search easily retrieves the May 10, 1954 announcement of cross circulation. Google’s News Archive Search also offers the ability to discover multiple articles on the subject from news sources across the country.

Closer to home, the University Digital Conservancy, the digital archives for the University of Minnesota, provides online access to the original news release on cross circulation issued at 2 PM on April 30, 1954.

There are even some remnants of film surviving from the press conference that have transitioned from analog to digital format. This may not be on par with today’s Driven to Discover videos but it surely captivated the interest of viewers at the time.

Tracking down these first mentions usually provide other insights that historical researchers are unaware of. For instance, until Herbert Warden started the pump in the above video, I had no idea that cross circulation was a LOUD technology; something akin to an air compressor in the operating room.

Dr. John W. LaBree

img0118.jpgDr. John W. LaBree, former Dean of the School of Medicine at Duluth and Assistant Vice President for Health Sciences, passed away on August 1, 2009.

His published obituaries (U of M; Startribune) have documented his outstanding achievements including his pioneering work in heart catheterization and his 70-plus-year relationship with the University of Minnesota’s health sciences from med student to assistant vice president.

Yet, archives can help us look back and see Dr. LaBree’s early career before the lifetime achievements and accolades.

The photo above is from 1950 while serving as an Instructor of Medicine at the University, a year before founding the St Louis Park Medical Clinic.

The notice below is from the February 15, 1946 Board of Regents minutes announcing his appointment as a Medical Fellow.



What do a gunshot wound, wet film, and a charitable donation to a children’s hospital all have in common?

They all have direct ties to innovative thinking and research in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Radiology.

In 1896 the University paper Aerial described a procedure at the St Paul City Hospital that allowed for the detection of two bullets in a leg with the use of an x-ray machine. Dr. Jones of the Medical School performed the procedure just eleven months after Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen discovered the detection of electromagnetic radiation.

In the early 1930s, then division head Dr. Leo Rigler set up a wet film viewing area in order to allow for almost immediate interpretation of results especially for emergency cases. Until the advancement of film processing, this provided the best means for real time results.

By the late 1960s, Dr. Kurt Amplatz had already become well-known for his innovative work in cardiovascular radiology and specifically in angiography. His research in this area eventually lead him to design his Amplatzer® septal occluder, which allowed for the repair of congenital heart defects in children. The announcement last week of the $50 million dollar gift in Dr. Amplatz’s name to help build the new children’s hospital completes this thread running through the Dept. of Radiology.

To learn more about these people and their contributions read the 1967 essay “A Brief History of the Department of Radiology” by Stephen Kieffer, Eugene Gedgaudas, and Harold Peterson available below.


The long view of islets

A recent article in the Star Tribune highlights current research at the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic to find a cure for diabetes. Researchers are hoping to implant insulin producing islets from genetically modified pigs into humans with diabetes. The projected outcome would be an on-going production of insulin that would reverse the effects of diabetes on the body.

Experimentation with insulin as a cure for diabetes has been a primary focus for curing the disease since the early 1920s. Dr. Frederick Banting, a medical researcher at the University of Toronto, received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1923 for his research in isolating and producing insulin.

Yet, Dr. Banting always credited his eureka moment in understanding how to extract insulin from reading the article “The Relation of the Islets of Langerhans to Diabetes with Special Reference to Cases of Pancreatic Lithiasis” published in the November 1920 issue of the journal Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics. The article’s author was Dr. Moses Barron, a professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Barron’s article not only influenced Banting’s work and the 90-year trajectory of insulin management of diabetes, but it also influenced diabetes related pancreas transplantation research including the work of Drs. Richard Lillehei and William Kelley in the 1960s and 1970s, also at the University of Minnesota.

Read a 1934 letter from Dr. Banting to Dr. Barron where he gives credit where credit is due.


Area Health Education Center

img0093.jpgIt was recently announced that the Minnesota Area Health Education Center, a program aligned with the Academic Health Center, will receive $3.4 million in federal funding to help develop the health care workforce and expand access to health care in traditionally underserved areas of Minnesota.

The MN AHEC was established in 2002 and partners with communities to identify their health profession needs. The MN AHEC is a collaborative effort between the University of Minnesota and the regional AHEC offices. However, the original concept for the AHEC began in 1970 as a national program to increase the pool of qualified individuals needed to fill the demands on the health sciences workforce. The U of M was an active participant in this federal program.

To learn more about the earlier work done by the AHEC in Minnesota read the following report from 1980 that details the changes in supply and distribution of health care workers in Minnesota from 1972-1980.


Dr. N. L. Gault

Dr. N. L. Gault, or Neal to just about everyone he met, passed away on December 11. Dr. Gault was Dean Emeritus of the Medical School and Professor Emeritus of Medicine.

img0081.jpg(Pictured: Dr. Gault with his colleagues at Seoul National University, ca. 1960.)

Dr. Gault’s medical education began in Texas, brought him to Minnesota, and then took him on a world wide tour that included Korea, Okinawa, China, New Delhi, and then landed him for a short time as the Associate Dean for the University of Hawaii School of Medicine. In 1972, Dr. Gault returned to Minnesota and served as dean for the Medical School until 1984.

Dr. Gault served as dean during the expansion of the health sciences in the 1970s and early 1980s. It was once said that he lead a major expansion both physical and functional of the Medical School at a time when every basic resource was in full retreat. After completing his service as dean, Dr. Gault continued to be active at the University as a special staff to the Vice President for Health Sciences and as an advocate for the Minnesota Medical Foundation and Medical School alumni. He also maintained his international interests by serving as the Honorary Consul General of Japan for Minnesota.

I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Gault several times over the past few years. He was well aware of the role of archives and the importance of preserving the historical record. Even during his tenure as dean, Dr. Gault personally and diligently transferred office records from the Medical School to the archives. I told him that his attention to record keeping must have been a result of his early training at Adjutant General School for the Air Force (after serving as Adjutant for a 1,000 bed hospital during the war at the age of 23).

Whenever Dr. Gault was asked what propelled him from rural Texas to an internationally renowned medical education specialist, he consistently answered that it was the opportunity for an education that he found at the University of Minnesota.

News round up

The health science research at the U of M’s Academic Health Center is regularly featured in the local and national news. Stem cell research, biomedical construction projects, and cancer rates in American Indians are just a few of the more recent news stories coming out of the AHC.

At other times, a news item may not mention the U of M, however, a primary element of the story will have its origin within the history of the U of M’s health sciences or there is a similar point to be made using information from the U.

The following are three topics from this last week’s news with an AHC historical perspective.

Man Cured of AIDS after Transplant
This news out of Germany received a lot of coverage in the press and even more skepticism from medical experts. However, the basic point of this story is that a man with leukemia received a bone marrow stem cell transplant that also helped to eradicate the presence of HIV in his body. Bone marrow transplants as a means to cure immune disorders and cancers have a forty year history at the U of M since Dr. Robert Good performed the first successful bone marrow transplant in 1968. Although the U of M had no part in the findings coming from Germany, the use of bone marrow transplants as a means to cure blood disorders is a major part of the U’s contribution to medical research.

Fewer than 1 in 5 US Adults Smoke
img0089.jpgThe CDC is reporting that for the first time since the tracking of smoking rates began in the 1960s the US adult average in now below 20%. In 1962, President Kennedy commissioned the Surgeon General and a committee of experts to report on the role of smoking on health. Their report came out in 1964. The ten person committee included Dr. Leonard Schuman who was the head of epidemiology in the U of M’s School of Public Health from 1954 to 1983. The document to the left is Surgeon General Luther Terry’s invitation to Dr. Schuman as well as his acceptance. It also includes a note from the then dean of the College of Medical Sciences, Robert Howard, encouraging Schuman to brace himself for the “slings and arrows of an outraged tobacco industry.”

Google Predicts the Flu
As another example of how Google and our health are becoming more entwined, Google released search data that seemed to predict a spike of reported flu cases in the mid-Atlantic states. An increase in web searches for flu symptoms mirrored a CDC report on confirmed cases two weeks later. As a comparison, I checked the download statistics for the Uof M’s pandemic influenza preparedness document in the AHC’s digital archives. Downloads have remained fairly consistent for the last three months. Hopefully this is an indicator that we will only suffer through a mild to normal flu season this year.

Dr. Walter Mackey

Dr. Walter Mackey passed away on Sunday, October 19th. Dr. Mackey was a strong proponent of history and using historical materials to support education and professional development.

I first met Dr. Mackey in the spring of 2006 at the Minnesota Veterinary Historical Museum. After discussing the work that I was doing, Dr. Mackey gave me a personalized, detailed tour of the museum’s exhibits and holdings. Through Dr. Mackey I met many faculty members of the College of Veterinary Medicine and attended a board meeting for the museum.

Dr. Mackey was a member of the first class of the newly established School of Veterinary Medicine in 1947. His enrollment was a direct result of his own effort to convince the state to provide funds to start the school. In the spring of 1947 he participated in a legislative hearing with a group of veterans that pressed for the funding of a veterinary school in Minnesota.

Dr. Mackey had a private practice and also worked at the University of Minnesota as the Director of the Research Animal Division and as an instructor of anatomy for the College of Veterinary Medicine. He helped to organize the MVHM and also served as president of the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association. For a short time Dr. Mackey also created anatomical models using plastination in order to preserve circulatory and nervous systems for study.