Johns Hopkins Founding Physicians Inspire Video Histories

A two-year project brings attention to seven Johns Hopkins legends including pathologist William Welch, surgeon William Halsted, internist William Osler and gynecologist Howard Kelly.

Published in Dome - December 2016

When Jessica Ruck arrived at Johns Hopkins as a medical student in 2013, she couldn’t name the quartet of Johns Hopkins’ founding physicians depicted in John Singer Sargent’s iconic 1906 painting, “The Four Doctors”—pathologist William Welch, surgeon William Halsted, internist William Osler or gynecologist Howard Kelly.

Many of her classmates couldn’t either.

Then, a lunchtime talk about Johns Hopkins Medicine artifacts by Ralph Hruban, director of the Department of Pathology, inspired Ruck to learn a lot more about the institution’s illustrious past. Hruban suggested that creating a series of videos about the Big Four, and other key Johns Hopkins Medicine figures, would be a good way to make its rich history accessible to all.

In 2014, the medical student embarked on the history project, with help from Norman Barker, director of pathology photography and the Graphic Arts Laboratory, and Jon Christofersen, a medical photographer and videographer in the school of medicine.

Supported in part by the Johns Hopkins Medical and Surgical Association,  the two-year effort has produced seven videos, ranging in length from six to 12 minutes. In addition to celebrating Welch, Halsted, Osler and Kelly, the videos document the exceptional efforts of Mary Elizabeth Garrett, the 19th-century philanthropist who donated the funds needed to open the school of medicine, provided that women were accepted on the same basis as men; Vivien Thomas, the African-American surgical technician whose brilliant research and surgical techniques helped make Johns Hopkins the birthplace of cardiac surgery in the 1940s; and John Shaw Billings, the former Civil War surgeon who masterfully designed and oversaw construction of the original Johns Hopkins Hospital.

On-camera presenters for the series are Hruban; John Cameron, former director of the Department of Surgery and a scholar of Halsted’s work; Stephen Achuff, former head of adult cardiology clinical programs, who helped to create and preserve the Osler Textbook Room in the Billings Administration Building; and John Rock, former director of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, who speaks about Kelly.

Others include historian Kathleen Waters Sander, who wrote a biography of Mary Elizabeth Garrett; Levi Watkins, the late Johns Hopkins cardiac surgeon, who knew Thomas well; and Neil Grauer, a senior writer for Johns Hopkins
Medicine, who has written two books about its history and discusses Billings’ remarkable achievements.

Ruck, who has completed her third year of medical school, is continuing to oversee the ongoing history project. Gary Lees, head of the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine, has recorded a video about Max Broedel, founder of the department, which was the first of its kind in the country. A video on William Sidney Thayer, one of Osler’s successors as physician-in-chief and head of the Department of Medicine, is also in the works.