Posts tagged: preventative medicine

David Rutstein Collection Opened to Research

Rutstein at the studios of WGBH in Boston, ca. 1955

The Rutstein collection is the twelfth and final collection opened under the Center’s CLIR-funded Foundations of Public Health Policy project. The finding aid is available here.

David Davis Rutstein, (1909-1986), S.B., 1930, Harvard College, M.D., 1934, Harvard Medical School, joined the faculty at Harvard Medical School in 1947 as Professor of Preventive Medicine and was head of the Department of Preventive Medicine until 1969. In 1966, he was appointed the Ridley Watts Professor of Preventive Medicine, and held that position until his retirement in 1975. Rutstein was also the Deputy Commissioner of Public Health for the New York City Department of Health from 1943-1946, and was a consultant in preventive medicine for many hospitals in New York and Massachusetts from the 1940s to the 1970s. Rustein played a national role in the organization of medical care, the integration of preventive medicine into the care of individual patients, and the measurement of medical outcomes. In the 1960s he directed a study on forming health maintenance programs, lobbied for a change in state laws regarding birth control for the poor, and advocated the use of nurse midwives for delivery. Some of his later studies with the U.S. Veteran’s Administration were on the genetic basis of alcoholism and on standards of health care. In 1955, Rutstein began a 40-episode television series on WGBH-TV called “Facts of Medicine”. This was one of the first uses of television to inform the public about local and national health concerns and current research.

The collection includes correspondence files documenting programs Rutstein initiated within the Department of Preventive Medicine at Harvard Medical School, as well as his larger influence on curriculum development at the school; teaching activities; and plans for a program in community health care at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Other aspects of his professional life covered in the papers include involvement in medical societies, especially the American and Massachusetts Heart Associations and American Council on Rheumatic Fever; consulting and advisory work for a variety of international and national medical bodies, including WHO and U.S. Public Health Service, and chairmanship of U.S.-United Kingdom Cooperative Rheumatic Fever Study; research on pneumonia, rheumatic fever, heart and blood vessel diseases, etc., and dissemination of its results to scientists and to the general public through Rutstein’s weekly television program and various articles; and lobbying efforts to change state laws, such as liberalizing birth control laws.

Harvard files contain considerable correspondence with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the United States Public Health Service; curriculum committee records, such as minutes, memoranda, correspondence, proposals, and reports; faculty meeting dockets and related material; lecture schedules, correspondence with students, class rosters (with grades) for the Health Resources program, and other teaching papers; departmental records, such as budgets and recommendations for tenure; and correspondence relating to committees he served on, including the Harvard-MGH Committee on Family Health and Medical Care Program, a community health program at Boston City Hospital, and other subjects. Also includes correspondence and related material concerning Lowell lectures, and his advisory and other work for the Veterans Administration, New York State Health Department, Boston area hospitals and professional societies; subject files for the TV program “The Facts of Medicine,” with fan mail, transcripts, and drafts; correspondence, notes, statements, reports, and printed material related to legislation; and drafts of articles and other publications. Also includes correspondence and notes related to articles published on occupational diseases.

The preparation of this collection for research access was funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources.

David D. Rutstein: Distinguished Physician

Letter to Dr. Rutstein on his appointment as Distinguished Physician at the Veteran's Administration. From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

Public Health project staff are currently working on the papers of Dr. David D. Rutstein, Ridey Watts Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Harvard Medical School. He was a former chief of the cardiac bureau of the New York State Department of Health; deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Health (1943-1946), and taught at Harvard from 1946 to 1975.

Recently discovered in the collection were two cubic feet of records from Dr. Rustein’s career with the U.S. Veteran’s Administration.  His research at the VA concentrated on measuring and improving the quality of medical care and studies involving the genetics of alcoholism.  As a result of his recognition as an authority on national and international health care standards and policies, Dr. Rutstein was appointed a “Distinguished Physician” on July 4, 1976. The Distinguished Physician program was established in 1968 to enable the VA to benefit from the talents of outstanding medical scientists and educators. The appointment is one of the highest honors bestowed by the VA Department of Medicine and Surgery. At the time, Rustein was one of nine such physicians in the United States to be given the title.

Foundations of Public Health Policy (FPHP) is an initiative currently funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). With grant funding, the Center for the History of Medicine is enabling, for the first time, access to the manuscript collections of influential leaders in the field of public health and public health administration. FPHP is part of the Center’s larger effort to chronicle the history of public health, starting with the Harvard School of Public Health, its centers, and its institutes.


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