Flexner Report...Birth Of Modern Medical Education

The Flexner Report is the most important event in the history of American and Canadian medical education. It was a commentary on the condition of medical education in the early 1900s and gave rise to modern medical education. The report is named for Abraham Flexner (1866-1959) who prepared it.

Abraham Flexner was not a doctor but was a secondary school teacher and principal for 19 years in Louisville, Kentucky (where this writer's uncle was one of his students). Flexner then took graduate work at Harvard and the University of Berlin and joined the research staff of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. For the Carnegie Foundation, Flexner researched, wrote and in 1910 published a report entitled "Medical Education in the United States and Canada." It is known today as the Flexner Report.

The Flexner Report triggered much-needed reforms in the standards, organization, and curriculum of North American medical schools. At the time of the Report, many medical schools were proprietary schools operated more for profit than for education. Flexner criticized these schools as a loose and lax apprenticeship system that lacked defined standards or goals beyond the generation of financial gain. In their stead Flexner proposed medical schools in the German tradition of strong biomedical sciences together with hands-on clinical training. The Flexner Report caused many medical schools to close down and most of the remaining schools were reformed to conform to the Flexnerian model.

Flexner did a number of other significant studies of education including a comparison of American, English and German universities. He founded the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton in 1930 and served as its first director.(Albert Einstein joined the Institute in 1933).

Abraham Flexner was one of the great educators of the 20th century. To him, medical education and medicine in North America owe a considerable debt.


Last Editorial Review: 8/5/2002