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St. Luke's Hospital and Columbia University

Note from Lambert to Butler

Figure 9

Note from Lambert to Butler 

Note from Lambert to Butler

Note from Lambert to Butler (Page 2)

St. Luke’s Hospital and Columbia University moved to Morningside Heights in 1896 and 1897 respectively helping to establish a neighborhood defined by education, community services, healthcare, and religious pursuits. The two institutions have a long history of shared initiatives although they would establish formal mergers with different institutions during the twentieth century. The decision by Columbia University to enter a formal agreement with Presbyterian Hospital in 1911 would help shape the course for both institutions at a time of rapid advancements and development in medical education and research.

Columbia University, originally known as King’s College, was founded in 1754 by issue of a royal grant by George II of England. Shortly after the end of the American Revolution in 1784, the college was reopened as Columbia College and in 1912 the title was changed to Columbia University in the City of New York. 

King's College organized a medical faculty in 1767 and was the first institution in the North American Colonies to confer the degree of Doctor of Medicine. Through several mergers beginning in the early nineteenth century, the medical faculty of Columbia College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons, which had obtained an independent charter in 1807, would become the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

By the late nineteenth century, there was strong opinion within the administration of the medical school that to strengthen medical education, the school should establish an affiliation with a hospital for general medicine and surgical diseases. In 1904, Samuel Lambert became Dean of the College and would lead the school for fifteen years. He was interested in medical education, especially the advancement of the methods and practices of the school.  Lambert supported a plan for the College of Physicians and Surgeons to form a union with Presbyterian Hospital, not St. Luke’s Hospital.  In his letter to Nicholas Murray Butler, then President of Columbia University, Lambert stressed that there were several considerations that made St. Luke’s a less than attractive choice for this important merger. In addition to concerns about lack of space, Lambert believed that Presbyterian Hospital had made significant advancement in regards to medical education and development of an affiliation with a college – beyond what St. Luke’s was capable of offering at the time. [Fig. 10]  Lambert was convinced that this was the time to secure an agreement with Presbyterian Hospital and that any delay, even five years, would be a disservice to the college and a disservice to the medical profession.

In 1911, Columbia University pursued and entered into a formal affiliation with Presbyterian Hospital. This partnership would establish a model for an emerging medical center – joining medical education, medical treatment and healthcare, and research. The Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center opened in 1928, further uptown from both its location in midtown Manhattan at West 59th Street and from the Morningside Heights campus, settling into a neighborhood known as Washington Heights. 

In the decade following Columbia’s decision to merge with Presbyterian Hospital, the university continued to focus on the importance of St. Luke’s Hospital to the neighborhood. In a letter dated December 13, 1929, Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University, wrote to Dean William Darrach at the College of Physicians and Surgeons to share his concerns about the possible isolation of St. Luke’s Hospital. Butler wrote, “The larger interests of the University imperatively demand the closest cooperation between all public service institutions on Morningside Heights, including the Cathedral, St. Luke’s Hospital, the Theological Seminaries, and the Institute of Musical Art.” [Fig. 11] Butler added that he had arranged to meet with the Board of Managers and the medical staff at St. Luke’s. His focus and concern was the situation of the modern hospital in a great city and the unfortunate effects of isolation from teaching and research. Butler emphasized that he thought it in the best interest of St. Luke’s Hospital to organize and be involved with a program of graduate study.  Butler was responding to past objections from St. Luke’s to have “teaching installed in the Hospital” and that he had made progress in getting St. Luke’s to move forward in this important direction. 

In 1947, St. Luke's Hospital and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University entered into an agreement that allowed medical students full access to the hospital wards as part of their educational program. This was the first major hospital affiliation for the College of Physicians and Surgeons after the 1911 agreement with Presbyterian Hospital. In addition, the agreement helped to establish St. Luke's as a major clinical setting for Columbia's medical students. The hospital's professional medical staff received academic status with Columbia. This agreement lasted until St. Luke's/Roosevelt was purchased by Mt. Sinai in 2013 creating the largest hospital network in New York City.