img0043.jpgMany people who are seeking treatment and advice in the health care system want to be a part of the strategy that maintains their state of wellness. Often, that involvement leads both patients and physicians to apply holistic approaches, complementary therapies, and alternative medicines. At the University of Minnesota, the Center for Spirituality and Healing is partnered with the Life Science Foundation to provide accurate information and empower the individual to make these choices regarding their health.

The University of Minnesota has a long tradition of approaching medicine from multiple vantage points. In 1888, the University established the College of Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery within the Department of Medicine. The new College of Homeopathic Medicine had been in fact the former prestigious Minnesota Homeopathic Medical College. The Medical College transferred its charter to the University in order to avoid competing with the newly formed Department of Medicine as well as to gain more prominence by being associated with the University. The measure also gained additional support for the University from the public who increasingly viewed homeopathic medicine as a preferred option to orthodox treatment methods.

By the turn of the century, the College had grown to fifteen faculty members. However, over the next decade student numbers declined. In 1909 the College of Homeopathic Medicine merged with the College of Medicine and Surgery and by 1911, the Board of Regents removed the final two chairs associated with homeopathic studies within the College of Medicine and Surgery and ceased offering a separate diploma.

Eating well

img0040.jpgThe recent issue of Scientific American looks at some of the questions related to the rise of obesity in a world still plagued by famine.

A related article in the issue focuses on nutrition and diet as part of the obesity discussion. The author details an ideal diet and then notes that this advice hasn’t changed much since first put forth by University of Minnesota physiologist Dr. Ancel Keys and Margaret Keys in their 1959 book Eat Well and Stay Well the Mediterranean Way.

Questioning photographs

img0039.jpgThe University of Minnesota has long been a leader in medical advances and technologies. Since the 1960s, the University has been synonymous with advances in transplant procedures. Prior to that, the medical school gave rise to corrective open heart procedures. Two of the men that were involved with this earlier era were C. Walton Lillehei and Richard Varco.

Lillehei’s research focused on maintaining normal oxygen levels within the blood while simultaneously operating on the heart by using an external pump and blood donor to by-pass the heart. Varco’s research along with John Lewis and Mansur Taufic investigated ways to decrease the need for oxygen by inducing hypothermia and creating a longer period necessary for by-passing the heart’s pumping action.

This picture captures a moment when these two men (Lillehei on the left, Varco on the right) are engaged in surgery. However, it does not take a heart surgeon to recognize a peculiarity in the photo. An avid viewer of Grey’s Anatomy or any other medical drama would be able to point out that the men should be wearing their masks and not letting them hang down from their necks.

The answer, however, is simple. Lillehei and Varco are performing surgery, but at the time of the photograph, the work they were doing was still in development. A majority of this work was done on laboratory dogs, as is the case in this picture (likely postmortem).

The photograph is at first simple and then complicated. It carries the weight of the researchers and their efforts and the risks and sacrifices of the subjects (both human and canine) and reminds the viewer of the give and take nature of science.

In archival terms, photographs should elicit questions regarding not only their content (as I have done above) but also their intended purpose and potential consequences. In doing so, the archivist and researcher cannot work in a vacuum. The photograph needs to be placed in its original context by using the archival sources and historical references available.

Building trivia

Question: Upon groundbreaking in 1950, how many stories tall was the Mayo Memorial Building to be?





Answer: Twenty-two stories. Unfortunately, due to increased costs for building materials during the Korean War and the lack of additional state funding, the building plans went under several revisions during construction. The final result was the fourteen-story building dedicated on October 21 & 22, 1954. See the architectural rendition of the proposed building below.



Drinking, smoking & graduating

img0034.jpgWhat does your yearbook say about you? A former University of Minnesota yearbook The Gopher approached the sentimentality surrounding graduation and the passing on of traditions in a less than serious manner.

For example, below are a few selections describing students in the School of Dentistry from 1908.

Name: Colie
Occupation: Answering roll call
Drink: Hops

Name: Mitt
Occupation: Collecting matches
Drink: Hoods Sarsaparilla

Name: Sandy
Occupation: Forgetting
Drink: Hot Scotch

The College of Pharmacy students graduating that same year did not fare much better.

Dretchko, A. L. So little is known concerning him that perhaps the less said about him the better.

Earl, Fred, W. Fred cares about as much for Botany as bacteria for a dead clam.

Erchenbrack, Earl S. His September modesty is now a thing of the past. Why, he even learned how to smoke!

Similar remarks (and more) are available on today’s students’ Facebook or MySpace pages. The difference is today’s employers are more likely to stumble across the comments via Google.

Obesity and the archival record, or, do these records make me look fat?

Several news outlets have reported on a new finding published in the New England Journal of Medicine (vol. 357, no. 4, July 26, 2007) regarding the spread of obesity in social groups. The article, “The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years,” was written by Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, and James Fowler, PhD.

Their findings detailed the increased chances of an individual becoming obese if 1. a close friend became obese (57% increase); 2. an adult sibling became obese (40% increase); or, 3. a spouse became obese (37% increase). They also found that persons of the same gender also increased the chances of one obese person influencing another.

The data set used for the study comes from material collected for the Framingham Heart Study that began in 1948. A second cohort of the offspring of the first FHS was established in 1971 and a third cohort of offspring of the second generation began in 2002. The obesity study used only data from 5124 individuals in the second FHS cohort (1971). It tracked the social networks of the people by creating a database of information taken from handwritten administrative tracking sheets used to facilitate follow-ups with each participant. The tracking sheets included family names, relationships, addresses, and at least one close friend as a contact. This social information was not the basis for the Framingham study, but merely an administrative tool to be able to contact someone for their next appointment. The net result was 38,611 observable social networks among the participants.

This study demonstrates two interesting points in regards to archives. First, data collected for one reason can be creatively repurposed at a later time for another reason. This is one of the simplest arguments for retaining records in archives. Records are not kept merely to recreate the transactional nature of institutions and their activities, but instead provide for the use of information for other intentions.

The second point is the fragility of data. The information used to gather the findings was part of a three generation (and counting) study of heart disease. It was available because it was part of an active project that was well-documented. Due to the size of the FHS and its findings, it is likely that the data sets produced will be well-maintained after its conclusion at the National Library of Medicine or elsewhere. However, other data sets with the same potential to be repurposed into new studies are not always as lucky. And, it is likely it will become more precarious for them in the near future.

Issues concerning the privacy of patient and human subject information are part of the archival management process. The Privacy Rule regulations under HIPAA have done little to address the long-term preservation of PHI materials in archives. It is much easier for principle investigators, institutions, and archives to simply destroy the data as a sweeping act of safeguarding. True, there are few alternatives under the current regulations, but it comes at a cost of re-useable information and perhaps at the cost of our own health and well-being.

Building trivia


Building trivia: After which Academy Award-winning actor was research laboratory space named in the Phillips-Wangensteen Building?











img0029.jpgAnswer: Jimmy Stewart

On April 3, 1981, the 13th and 14th floors of the Phillips-Wangensteen Building were dedicated as the “Jimmy Stewart Research Laboratories” as part of a gift provided by the Variety Club. The space was designed to be used for the departments of pediatrics and internal medicine.

The gift was a result of a $100,000 grant made by the Sears, Roebuck and Co. to honor a theatrical personality involved with promoting the work of the Variety Club. The total cost for completing the laboratory space was an estimated 6.2 million dollars. The Phillips-Wangensteen Building was dedicated two years earlier in June 1979. At the time nearly one-third of the usable space in PWB was unfinished. The Variety Club gift assisted in completing some of the open space.

The future doctor, past & present

A recent article in the Star Tribune highlighted a new program aimed at diversifying medical schools in Minnesota by encouraging minority, immigrant, and rural undergraduate students to become doctors. The program, “Minnesota’s Future Doctors,” hopes these students will apply to medical school, specialize in primary care, and ultimately stay in Minnesota once they begin their practice.

img0028.jpgAt the same time, I stumbled across an article from 1968 that discussed the “New Type of Doctor” that would be needed by the year 2000. The article begins by emphasizing that it is not the physician “assigned to care for passengers and crew of an interplanetary space ship” but instead it will be a “new type of medical specialist – the family practice physician.”

The 1968 program for new doctors established the Division of Family Practice and Community Health at the University of Minnesota, one of the oldest and largest in the nation. It began as a response to the national shortage of primary care physicians during the 1960s.

Forty years later, the need still exists, as is evident from the Star Tribune article, but the emphasis is now on filling the need for specific communities with what the program creators refer to as doctors with “cultural competencies.”

To read the full article from the 1968 September/October issue of mediCALL (a former publication of the University of Minnesota Health Sciences Center) click the image below.





Advisory committee meeting minutes

img0025.jpgAcademic Health Center
History Project Advisory Committee

Wednesday 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
June 20, 2007
Room 475 Children’s Rehab Center


In attendance: Dr. Frank Cerra, Elaine Challacombe, John Eyler, Jennifer Gunn, Elisabeth Kaplan, and Erik Moore

1. Oral history project
The primary goal for the Oral History Initiative will be to conduct high quality, well researched oral histories of past and present members of the AHC community. The focus will be on the interviews.

John Eyler explained that his choice for a candidate to fill the oral historian position would be a qualified historian of medicine or medical science with a special interest in the history of medical/health care institutions. If hired as a tenure track faculty member, the position would attract a talented scholar and build the incentive to remain at the University and complete the project.

Three primary concerns regarding a tenure track position centered on 1. the academic currency required to satisfy tenure for such a position; 2. the need for the position to remain focused on creating an extensive collection of oral histories and not to become too focused on a particular aspect too early on in the project; and 3. the oral histories would need to be available to all researchers as completed and not at the end of the tenure cycle or writing process.

The discussion focused primarily on ways to satisfy the tenure requirements. The position would need to have a reduced teaching load and instead would focus on research (the oral histories). Publications would be primarily based on articles developed from the project and the finalized transcripts of the interviews. These transcripts would include scope and content notes and provide a historical context for the interviews. The other concerns could be satisfied by incorporating them into the position description and making them part of the tenure process.

Next steps: John Eyler, with assistance from other members of the advisory committee, will look into the academic requirements to satisfy tenure in oral history. Once a satisfactory tenure plan and position description are put together, they will be reviewed by Dr. Cerra.

2. Digitization of AHC archival material
Erik Moore distributed and discussed a list of potential items to digitize and make available online for the History Project. The materials include studies and reports leading to the re-organization of the Health Sciences and the formation of the Academic Health Center, archival records and reports pertaining to the management and operation of the University Hospitals and Clinics including the minutes for the Board of Governors, the full run of the Bulletin of the Medical School (now the Medical Bulletin) beginning in 1929, and several oral histories conducted by Ann Pflaum in 1999 with prominent leaders of the AHC.

Erik explained that these materials along with the digital preservation of current AHC Strategic Positioning documents in a single online repository would provide researchers with material that documents the AHC’s planning activities over the course of fifty years. Dr. Cerra added that many of the electronic files that could be added to the repository are available from the Office of Communications and even his own electronic files. Plans to capture that data will also be part of this process.

All were supportive of the list and suggested additional areas for growing the digitization project. Erik will continue to develop the list and will review it with Dr. Cerra in July. A budget for digitization has been set aside and scanning can begin shortly after the initial priorities have been established.

Next meeting TBA (fall 2007)