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About SUNY Downstate

Overview

Students in the courtyard

The State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center, is a major provider of medical education, health care, and research in the New York City region. Located on an urban campus in Brooklyn, SUNY Downstate Medical Center includes a College of Medicine, College of Health Related Professions, College of Nursing, School of Graduate Studies, School of Public Health and the 372 bed University Hospital of Brooklyn. Almost 1700 students pursue certificates, Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, Doctor of Public Health, Ph.D. and M.D. degrees.

The Center is heir to a tradition that began more than a century ago, with the founding in 1860 of the Long Island College Hospital — this country's first teaching hospital and the prototype for all subsequent medical centers. SUNY Downstate Medical Center has a three-fold mandate: education to train physicians, nurses, research scientists and allied health professionals; research in the medical sciences; and the provision of clinical care to the population of New York State.

This complex organization serves the needs of a larger and more diverse urban constituency than any other such center in the country. It upholds a special responsibility to solve difficult problems found primarily in urban areas, and to serve those who are underserved.

History

Old Long Island College HospitalDownstate Medical Center, a unit of the State University of New York, had its beginnings as a small charitable medical service set up in 1856 by a group of German physicians. This free dispensary, organized to treat indigent Germans living in Brooklyn, was staffed by five physicians.

The original intention of the founders of the dispensary was to build a large hospital to care for the German population of Brooklyn. But changing population trends, which brought a largely Irish patient load to the dispensary, necessitated a revision to this plan. On October 27, 1857, physicians from the German General Dispensary, then located at 145 Court Street, and several other prominent Brooklynites, resolved to organize a charitable institution in the City of Brooklyn, to be called St. John’s Hospital. From November 7, until December 23 of that year, the dispensary was called The St. John’s Hospital; on December 23, the name of the hospital was changed to The Long Island Hospital and Medical College. It was on this date that a medical college with a hospital was first projected.

Dr. Louis Bauer and Dr. John Bryne, the prime movers in the establishment of the medical college, were trained in Europe, where it was customary for medical schools to be associated with hospitals. The two physicians naturally wanted to adopt this system to prepare the future physicians of Brooklyn, then an independent city and the third largest in the United States. A bill to incorporate the Long Island College Hospital of the City of Brooklyn was introduced in the State Legislature January 20, 1858, and was passed March 6. The hospital’s charter empowered 25 regents to operate a hospital and to confer degrees on candidates twenty-one years of age, or older, who had passed three years of preceptorship under a practicing physician and had completed two courses of lectures at the hospital.

Almost immediately after the charter was signed, the Perry Mansion, located in Brooklyn Heights, was purchased to house the new medical complex. The old dispensary on Court Street was vacated, and by mid-June, 1858, the hospital was admitting patients. The official inauguration of the Long Island College Hospital took place June 3, and the complex was opened for the inspection of the profession and the public generally on November 15.

Financial difficulties beset the new institution almost immediately, slowing down efforts to open the medical school. The hospital itself was forced to close in late September, 1859. Meanwhile, several outstanding medical men were secured to fill the professorships at the college, and on March 29, 1860, the institution reopened its doors following financial arrangements underwriting the expense of the collegiate department and settling various liens.

The following day, March 30, 1860, the instruction of students began. The first teaching faculty was a distinguished one. Most eminent of all was Austin Flint, Sr., M.D., professor of practical medicine and pathology, who had been a professor of medicine at Rush Medical College in Chicago.

A medical student’s training in 1860 consisted of his three year preceptorship under the direction of a practicing physician and his attendance at two courses of lectures of at least sixteen weeks each. The lectures that were given one year were repeated the next, sometimes verbatim, so many students took their first course of lectures at one school and their second at another. The first class had 57 students, as well as a number of graduates of other institutions. The first commencement took place July 24, 1860, with 21 students graduating.

In 1861, in anticipation of the medical needs of the Civil War, the curriculum included a one month course on military surgery, dissection, and clinical instruction on the wards. By 1869, major changes were introduced into the teaching curriculum. Daily class examinations were instituted to insure more exact knowledge, especially in the demonstrative and elementary branches. Another change, made in 1872, was the establishment of a reading and recitation term that began early in October and extended to the beginning of the regular term in March. This term included dissection and clinical instruction as well as reading and quizzes.

A new wing was added to the Pacific Street side of the Long Island College Hospital in March, 1869, and another wing was built on the Amity Street side in 1871. The latter was built chiefly for the accommodation of United States sailors, and brought the hospital’s capacity to 200 beds. The total number of "indoor patients" treated in 1870 was 1,008, of whom 56 died in the hospital.

By 1879, the faculty of the Long Island College Hospital concluded that the system of teaching medicine in the United States was radically wrong. They debated the possibility of instituting a compulsory, full-graded, three year course of instruction, but abandoned the idea because of their fears that such a plan would result in the loss of many students, when the college was entirely dependent for its existence on students’ fees. Certain changes were made, however, to improve the curriculum. The regular term was lengthened from sixteen weeks to five months, but the four month reading and recitation term remained optional. Thus, a total of eighteen month’s instruction was available to any student electing two regular and two reading and recitation terms.

Between 1888 and 1897, the Long Island College Hospital grew rapidly. The Hoagland Laboratory building, built primarily for research in bacteriology, was constructed. At its opening, it was considered one of the best equipped buildings for research and medical training in the country.

In December, 1897, the Polhemus Memorial Clinic Building was completed. The new building, eight stories high, was erected on the southwest corner of Henry and Amity Streets.

By this time, State law required that a student take three courses of lectures in three different years. The system of having a regular term of five months and an optional reading term was retained. The entering class of 1897-1898 began the first four year graded course of instruction. The reading term was abolished, and the school year lasted seven months. In 1897, the student fees were raised to $185 and $190, from $125 in 1895. In the period from 1989 to 1909, the average number of student in the school was 310, and the average number in the graduating class was 62.

During the years immediately before and after World War I, many additional changes occurred at Long Island College Hospital. Admission to the school was opened to women; postgraduate teaching was instituted; a new wing increased the number of beds to 500; and affiliations were established with other Brooklyn hospitals.

In 1930, the college and hospital were separated from one another so that each would be under its own governing board. The college was conducting much of its clinical teaching in other hospitals throughout the borough, and it seemed preferable that it not be governed by the board of only one hospital. The college became the Long Island College of Medicine.

Other changes occurring during the 1930s included the construction of the Polak Memorial Laboratory, housing laboratories in bacteriology, histology, physiology, pathology, gynecology, and surgery. In 1935, 500 beds at Kings County Hospital were set aside in a college division for the clinical instruction of students.

In the 1940s, full-time chiefs were appointed in all the clinical departments, training in psychiatry was offered a separate department, and Maimonides Hospital and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Fort Hamilton became affiliates, along with the Brooklyn, Brooklyn Jewish, Coney Island, Greenpoint, Kings County, Kingston Avenue, the Long Island College, and the Methodist Hospitals. In 1946, the third year curriculum was changed so that nearly two thirds of the work consisted of clinical clerkships.

In 1945, the college purchased a six and one-half acre tract of land that eventually became the site of Downstate Medical Center. After approval by a faculty committee and the board of trustees of the Long Island College of Medicine, the board of managers of the Alumni Association, the trustees of the State University of New York, and the State Board of Regents, the State Legislature in 1950 passed a bill legalizing the merger of the Long Island College of Medicine and the State University to form Downstate Medical Center. The establishment in 1966 of the School of Graduate Studies, the College of Health Related Professions, and the College of Nursing, and the construction of the basic sciences building in 1956, student residence halls in 1965, State University Hospital in 1966, the student center in 1967, and the nurses’ residence in 1968, completed the transition of the medical school as it is now known from its early days as the German General Dispensary on Court Street.

Excerpted with permission from the New York State Journal of Medicine, July 1976. It was reprinted in Alumni Today, Spring, 1996, with the permission from the Medical Society of the State of New York.

* Dr. Louis Bauer (1814-1898) has been referred to as "the father of orthopaedic surgery in the United States." In 1833 he began his study of medicine at the Universities of Greifswald, Breslau, and Berlin. In 1838, he passed the state examinations and qualified as a physician, surgeon, and obstetrician. along with a fellow German immigrant physician Gustav Braeunlich, he founded, in 1856, what was initially called the Brooklyn German General Dispensary. Within a short time, the name of the institution was changed to the Long Island College Hospital (today it is now known as the Downstate Medical Center); this was America's first college hospital. Bauer held an appointment as Professor of Anatomy and Surgery at the hospital. In addition, he later was made Health Officer of Brooklyn City and served in that capacity for two years. He also served as the pathologist for the Brooklyn coroner and was a frequent lecturer at the Brooklyn Medical and Surgical Institute

Institutional History

Health Science Education BuildingThe State University of New York Downstate Medical Center is one of four such campuses within the 64 unit State University of New York. Located on an urban campus in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, the Health Science Center includes the Colleges of Health Related Professions, Medicine, Nursing, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, a major research center and the University Hospital of Brooklyn.

The Health Science Center’s history spans over 130 years, during which time it has undergone several name changes. In 1856 two physicians established a dispensary in downtown Brooklyn to provide care for poor immigrants. The Long Island College Hospital grew out of this dispensary. In 1858 the state granted the hospital’s request for a charter to launch a medical school. The school, which opened its doors two years later, revolutionized medical education in the United States. The new school was unique because, for the first time in this country, the teaching of medicine was brought to the hospital bedside and the idea that physicians should be trained exclusively in university classrooms and lecture halls was rejected. It was truly a college hospital.

In 1931 the school was rechartered as the Long Island College of Medicine, with affiliated hospitals throughout Brooklyn. The "Downstate" era began on April 5, 1950 with a special ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where a merger contract was signed between the Long Island College of Medicine and the newly constituted State University of New York. Several years later, the current campus of the SUNY Health Science Center at Brooklyn was built in East Flatbush. In April, 1953, ground was broken for the current Basic Sciences Building, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower laid the cornerstone in 1954. The complex was expanded in 1966 with the opening of University Hospital of Brooklyn. The School of Graduate Studies, the College of Health Related Profession, and the College of Nursing were also added that year.

In 1998, Dr. Robert Furchgott, chairman of Downstate's Department of Pharmacology, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine receiving world-wide recognition for his work, hailed as "brilliantly opening a new domain in science," and revolutionizing scientists' understanding of vascular physiology [learn more].

Recent developments include the addition of a Master in Public Health program in 2002 and a School of Public Health in 2008. We also returned to State University of New York Downstate Medical Center as our institutional name, and in 2010 we celebrated the 150th birthday of the College of Medicine.

Today, the SUNY Downstate Medical Center is the focal point of a health-care network that encompasses 18 hospitals and research institutions and more than 40 health-related facilities in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and beyond. It encompasses a campus of 13 acres, with a total student body of approximately 1,700 students, a faculty of nearly 3,000 (including full-time, part-time and voluntary staff), and support staff of 3,000.

 

— Excerpted from the 1995–1996 Resident’s Handbook, Office of Graduate Medical Education. SUNY Brooklyn.

Student Facilities

SUNY Downstate Medical Center has many facilities for education and training of students. Students receive a well-rounded didactic and clinical experience which will prepare them for whatever field of expertise they choose to enter.

The Health Science Education Building (HSEB) houses classrooms, laboratories, a 500-seat auditorium, and the Medical Research Library of Brooklyn. Included in the HSEB are two floors of study carrels, which serve as "home base" for medical students during their first two years. The carrels are located in multidisciplinary laboratory sites designed to foster small-group learning.

All carrels are equipped with private, lockable storage bins and 24-hour computer access.  In addition, there is a student space (the Library Information Commons) on the ground floor of the library, open 24 hours 7 days each week.

Mission Statement

SUNY Downstate's College of Medicine, Health Related Professions, Nursing and its Schools of Graduate Studies and Public Health - offer students a broad professional education that will prepare them for practice or careers in any location and community. This education provides exceptional opportunities for those students with a commitment to promoting health in urban communities and addressing the complex challenges of investigating and preventing diseases that confront clinicians, educators, and researchers in such an environment. This special aspect of Downstate's unique mission is reflected in the students it attracts and selects, the vast majority of whom are drawn from the New York City Metropolitan area. Many of these students are members of minority and cultural groups underrepresented in the health professions, and/or come from families of first-generation immigrants or from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The differences in the background and outlook that students bring with them can enhance the quality of the educational experience of all students at SUNY Downstate. The belief that diversity adds an essential ingredient to the educational process is one of the tenets of SUNY Downstate. Many factors, such as race, ethnic or cultural background, academic achievement, geographic location, diversity of experiences, leadership roles, and socioeconomic background, are taken into consideration in the admissions process. A diverse health care work force will be better equipped to provide culturally competent care to an increasingly diverse population.

College of Medicine Diversity Statement

Diversity

The College of Medicine’s commitment to diversity has three distinct sources: our location—in a borough and city that has served for centuries as a gateway for immigrants seeking a new life for themselves and their families in America; our recognition of the exceptional dedication and intellectual vitality that first and second generation immigrants bring to the profession of medicine; and our appreciation of the importance of the cultural diversity dimension of health care; and our commitment to ensuring the development of cultural competence in all of our graduates. Virtually every wave of immigration to this country has come through Brooklyn and Downstate has played an important and unique role in the Borough by providing educational opportunities to immigrants and the children of immigrants in our community that results in a more representative healthcare work force for the diverse populations that settle in New York City (NYC). Approximately a third of the physicians that practice in Brooklyn are Downstate graduates and more physicians practicing in NYC graduated from Downstate than any other Medical School. Downstate Medical Center has long appreciated the educational value of a medical school class, faculty and staff that reflects the broad diversity of the community in which it is embedded.

Medical School Diversity Mission

Our Mission is to educate a medical school student body that is diverse in culture, ethnicity, economic background, sexual orientation and gender by achieving the holistic integration of New York’s and Brooklyn’s economically disadvantaged and underrepresented populations into our school. This includes students who are immigrants or the children of first generation immigrants. We also recognize the prime importance of a diverse faculty and staff to ensuring that we provide the best educational environment for our students and the best care for our patients.

Vision

Our vision is three-fold: First, to create a culturally diverse learning community that includes our faculty, students, and staff. Second, to provide a physician workforce in the Borough of Brooklyn that more closely reflects the diversity of the population that has settled here and, in so doing, to more effectively care for our community. Third, to contribute to the national pool of underrepresented minority physicians.