Dr. Alton Ochsner and four colleagues, Drs. Guy Alvin Caldwell, Edgar Burns, Francis E. LeJeune and Curtis Tyrone created a new system of healthcare delivery in the Gulf South named the Ochsner Clinic (pictured from left: Dr. LeJeune, Dr. Burns, Dr. Tyrone, Dr. Caldwell and Dr. Ochsner). The clinic opened its doors on January 2, 1942. After 78 years of existence the Ochsner Clinic has evolved to Ochsner Health and continues to provide superb health care locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Multiple publications have recorded the history of the Clinic and its founders. In this narrative, we discuss research efforts that have been an important part of the rich history and success of the Clinic from its inception. Medical history is a unique academic niche and an important avenue to contribute to the medical literature. Ochsner has a rich and storied history, and many stories of its physicians and people remain to be told. These stories allow us to stand in wonder of those who achieved and excelled and reflect on the values and enduring ethic on which Ochsner was founded. This continues to give meaning to what we do in our lives in medicine and surgery. In today’s world, research of this type is often conducted by an institution’s alumni and/or its retired physicians. The Ochsner Alumni Association was formed in 1948 and continues to be a vibrant and robust organization.
Alton Ochsner and the Founders’ Contributions to Education and Research
The historical timeline of education and research at the Ochsner Clinic starts with the founders. In the summer of 1927 at the age of thirty-one, Alton Ochsner accepted the position as chairman of the Department of Surgery at Tulane University School of Medicine, and succeeded in organizing one of America’s premier surgical teaching programs at Charity Hospital, an institution that provided invaluable clinical and research opportunities to Ochsner and his students. The same drive and interest in education and research followed Dr. Ochsner and the other founders when they established the Ochsner Clinic. Although a description of his and the other founders’ contributions in the area of education and research is beyond the scope of this narrative, suffice it to say that all made important contributions to the growth of their specialties. It is important to point out, however, that although Alton Ochsner made important innovations in the field of surgery, he will always be remembered for exposing the hazards of tobacco and its link to lung cancer. In 1939, in a paper published in Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics, he and protégé Dr. Michael DeBakey reported: “ In our opinion the increase in smoking with the universal custom of inhaling is probably a responsible factor, as the inhaled smoke, constantly repeated over a long period of time, undoubtedly is a source of chronic irritation to the bronchial mucosa”. His peers criticized him, but his ideas about tobacco prevailed. Four years after Dr. Ochsner’s death, Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals created the Alton Ochsner Award, that is presented annually to individuals and organizations for their efforts to help people stop smoking. This is but one example of the significance and importance of Ochsner’s history.
The Ochsner Medical Foundation
The establishment of the Ochsner Medical Foundation was very important in separating Ochsner from other private practice groups, and it paved the way not only to the development of academic programs but also to the growth of research programs. At the beginning of 1944, the founders wanted to expand the Clinic activities into areas of public service. More specifically, the founders were very keen in developing programs in research, medical education and charity. On the advice of J. Blanc Monroe, the clinic attorney, Dr. Ochsner and his colleagues elected to maintain the Clinic for the practice of medicine and established a non-profit foundation to perform all the other functions which they wanted to be involved with.
On January 15, 1944, the Ochsner Medical Foundation was chartered and article II indicated the reason of its existence: “ The general purpose of this corporation shall be scientific, educational, literary and charitable; and to promote medical and surgical and scientific learning, skill, education in the broadest sense; and to add and advance the study and investigation of human ailments and injuries and the causes, prevention, relief and cure thereof, without distinction as the means of the patient, his race or domicile…to conduct more research, both clinical and laboratory…”
The first director of the newly established Alton Ochsner Medical Foundation was Dr. Dean Echols, who was given the responsibility to develop educational training programs. In addition, Dr. Thomas Findley, Chairman of the Department of Medicine, was appointed as the Director of Research. Through the combined efforts of Dr. Findley and Dr. Echols, Dr. and Mrs. Otto Schales were hired from Peter Bent Brigham in Boston to continue their research in chemistry, marking the beginning of the Foundation research program. The hiring of Dr. Albert Segalof in 1945 to head research in endocrinology and Dr. Edward D. Frohlich in 1976 to be vice-president of education research are important highlights in the history of education and research at the Clinic.
Research and education in medical history is consistent with the fundamental principles elucidated here and is a field of study that was of great importance to Dr. Alton Ochsner and Dr. John Ochsner.
To view a presentation on the history of Ochsner by Hector O. Ventura, MD, please click here.
Mission of the Ochsner Alumni Association
To develop strong bonds and create a sense of loyalty and commitment to Ochsner among current alumni. To promote a sense of pride when our alumni remember their training at the institution.
Goals of the Ochsner Alumni Association
- To develop and maintain a close scientific and professional relationship with our alumni.
- To stimulate advancement in all branches of medicine among our alumni.
- To assist in the recognition and support of our alumni throughout the world.