Cosmic Alumni of Yale's Short-Lived Institute of Human Relations

By Rader, Rick | The Exceptional Parent, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Cosmic Alumni of Yale's Short-Lived Institute of Human Relations


Rader, Rick, The Exceptional Parent


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As a clinical professor of surgery at the Yale University School of Medicine, Dr. Sherwin Nuland knows a thing or two about the joint.

One of the world's most respected teaching institutions, Yale almost had a shot at being the galaxy's best.

In his new book, The Uncertain Art, Nuland recounts the story of a Yale Medical School Dean, Dr. Milton Winternitz, who in the early 1920s had a vision that pegged him a radical and rogue.

Realizing that medicine was being eclipsed by science over art (and thankfully so in many respects), Winternitz was fearful that the medical school would distance itself from the university's riches of literature, history, philosophy, art, and the other subjects that contributed to what he thought physicians needed in order to be "humanistic."

He saw medical students as "graduate students" at the university and not merely "trade school students." To ensure that Yale would honor the tradition of educating doctors to care for and about people and not simply be technocrats who cared about signs and symptoms, he crafted a plan.

He called for the establishment of The Institute of Human Relations. He used his influence and prominence to create what he hoped would be a "heaven from academic medicine's determination to transform itself into an investigational and technological enterprise."

The new model would be integrated within the university so that the medical students would be exposed to the tradition of the human condition. They would begin to appreciate the human stories that accompany their patients onto the examination table. It would be a reaffirmation of the earliest university medical schools in the tradition of Montpelier, Paris, Bologna, Leyden, Edinburgh, and Padua. The emerging physicians would never lose sight of the intrinsic "human relation" that "is" medicine.

Nuland describes the vision: "As Winternitz saw it, the fragmentation of medical education would begin to break down, barriers between disciplines would crumble, and the increasing distance between doctor and patient would be narrowed. The Institute of Human Relations would be truly humane."

For decades, legions of exceptional parents have had two wishes when they crossed the threshold of clinics, hospitals, offices, universities, and medical centers. Firstly, to find a doctor who would consent to "see" their children with special needs and secondly to see the "distance between doctor and patient" narrowed.

How reassuring would it be for parents sitting in a doctor's office to be able to look up and find in the framed, gridlocked display of certificates, awards, recognitions, and honors, a diploma from The Institute of Human Relations!

That would almost certainly ensure that the physicians would understand the realities of the parents; that they would speak to and not about the child; that they would be advocates and clinicians; that they would help create a medical home with a vision for the future; that they would know there was no reimbursement code for time spent in supportive silence; that they would expect and welcome insights from the parents; that they would consent to and initiate conversations with the brigade of therapists, teachers, counselors, and specialists; and that they would always acknowledge when "watchful waiting" was nothing more than just watching and waiting. …

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