This highly influential report, sponsored by the Rockefeller’s and Carnegie Foundation, evaluated medical schools and restructured American medical education. It set up a new standard so that schools could only be accredited if they showed an emphasis in drug based research and treatment. Homeopathy and other alternative approaches to medicine were no longer recognized. Abraham Flexner, author of the report, was on the staff of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In 1910, 161 medical schools existed. By 1919, there were only 81 left.
The next step was to solve the problems. Rockefeller and Carnegie then provided the money to solve the problem. They offered tax-free grants. Tremendous infusions of millions and millions of dollars to those selected medical schools that were cooperative and that were willing to go along with the recommendations made by Rockefeller and Carnegie. The ones who weren’t willing to submit themselves to the influence of the money didn’t get any, and they fell by the wayside. The ones who did go along got this money and were able to build big buildings to attract qualified teachers. They were able to get the necessary equipment, and they became the large medical schools in America today, through Rockefeller and Carnegie money.
Now, there is an old saying that “he who pays the piper calls the tune.” And that is exactly what happened. Gates and Flexner, and those whom they appointed, became Board members and consultants for all of these schools. And you can be sure, ladies and gentlemen, that if you are on the Board of Trustees of the school and you are struggling for money and somebody comes to you and says here is 10 million dollars and then they say, however, or by the way, we would suggest that the next time you look for a president we suggest that you look at Mr. Smith, he’s a fine, reputable man. You will listen very carefully when they make that suggestion and Mr. Smith becomes the next president.
Mr. Smith listens very carefully when Mr. Gates, Mr. Rockefeller, or Mr. Carnegie say, “now, Mr. Smith, you need people on your teaching staff with these qualifications, and we suggest that you look at Dr. Jones, Dr. Radcliff” and so forth. They all listen. Money has a distinct sound. It is the ruffling of thousand dollar bills. Now there is no corruption there. It is not necessary to set down and say we are going to control the school. We want you to do what we tell you, it is all just very gentlemanly and done gently. But it’s done, nevertheless. And so you can be sure that those schools that were willing to cooperate were the ones who got the money. The record indeed shows that this is true.
How the Flexnor Report Hijacked Modern Medicine
If you’ve ever wondered how modern-day medicine got to where it is today, you should begin by learning about Abraham Flexner. He’s probably one of the most influential men no one has ever heard of.
Abraham Flexner was not a doctor, but this school teacher and educational theorist from Louisville, Kentucky, has had a more significant impact on modern medicine than just about anyone else.
Though institutions such as Johns Hopkins were already implementing “modern principles” into their work, most medical schools had yet to subscribe to these paradigms.
So what Flexner did was to attempt to align medical education under a set of norms that emphasized laboratory research and the patenting of medicine — both of which would serve to further enrich the estates of the entrepreneurs who funded Flexner’s 1910 report: John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and others.
Sounds like a win-win, right? … Well, not exactly.
In fact, chances are that if Flexner had not submitted his report that audited medical schools in the United States and Canada, we would not have a society heavily biased in favor of many inhumane and unnatural medical practices that we have today.
Should there have been more accountability for medical practitioners in North America? Probably. Should that accountability come from the oil industry and others who saw the domination of medicine as another way to amass wealth? That seems to be a conflict of interest, to put it mildly.
Dr. Thomas P. Duffy in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine offered this analysis of Flexner’s approach:
“There was maldevelopment in the structure of medical education in America in the aftermath of the Flexner Report. The profession’s infatuation with the hyper-rational world of German medicine created an excellence in science that was not balanced by a comparable excellence in clinical caring. Flexner’s corpus was all nerves without the life blood of caring. Osler’s warning that the ideals of medicine would change as ‘teacher and student chased each other down the fascinating road of research, forgetful of those wider interests to which a hospital must minister’ has proven prescient and wise.”
But isn’t this sort of what you’d expect when an evil genius — all intellect, no compassion — like Rockefeller determines the future of medical education and care?
Of course, it’s not just the research that modern medicine is after. While notoriety for the latest “breakthroughs” certainly drives most medicine, money is the ultimate determiner of access and availability of treatments.
And getting back to the connection between the robber barons and medicine, why did Rockefeller et al have such an interest in medical education? One possible reason could’ve been their interest in peddling pharmaceuticals that began as byproducts of oil refinement.
Health journalist S.D. Wells notes in the eBook 25 Amazing (and Disturbing) Facts About the Hidden History of Medicine,
“Five score and two years ago, a man named Abraham Flexner was hired by John D. Rockefeller to evaluate the effectiveness of therapies being taught by medical colleges and institutions, with the ultimate goal of dominating control over pharmaceuticals.
“With partnerships including Andrew Carnegie and JP Morgan, a new “doorkeeper” would exist to influence legislative bodies on state and federal levels to create regulations and licensing “red tape” that strictly promoted drug medicine while stifling and shutting down alternative, inexpensive natural remedies. Those medical colleges and institutions that did not submit to this superpower of regulation were crushed and put out of business.
“The Flexner report was conveniently titled Medical Education in the United States and Canada and the 22 page control ‘mechanism’ was more or less a teamsters union, and medical schools in the U.S. were cut in half by the Flexner Report in less than 15 years, from 160 to 80, and then down below 70 by World War II. This concentrated control is the direct cause of the majority of problems with health care today.”
Flexner elevated the importance of medical research to a status of near infallibility as he helped import and institute German educational methods in the teaching of medicine.
This brought many needed improvements to medical students’ practical field experience through hands-on learning, but it also built in a strong bias in favor of empirical science (i.e. pharmaceutical drugs) to the exclusion of whole-patient care or any of the more natural treatment options.
Flexner helped pave the way for a medical monopoly that persists to this day. Modern medicine has become such a systemic force that none of this is really shocking to you, right? Of course, drugs are patented. Of course, they’re expensive and controlled by a select group of companies and government agencies. Of course, we can’t use plants as medicine. That’s quackery!
What is the Flexner Report?
Turn of the century technology such as the automobile and the airplane were capturing the imaginations of Americans and respect was growing for specialists in every field. In this frenzy for the latest and greatest, the door was wide open for how new technology might improve our lives in every way. So why not also give our health over to science and technology and see if they can also improve and lengthen our lives?
This proverbial search for the fountain of youth that seems to emerge in different ways in every generation appeared in the form of medical advances in the early 1900s. So when educational theorist and celebrity Abraham Flexner caught the attention of American aristocracy, who saw advances in education as a way to build their empire, they (Rockefeller, Carnegie, et al.) approached Flexner.
“Rockefeller’s goal was to dominate the oil, chemical, and pharmaceutical markets, so his company [Standard Oil of New Jersey] purchased a controlling interest in a huge German drug/chemical company called I.G. Farben,” Ty Bollinger said.
Hans Ruesch also drew the connection between this and the need for an educational component, “So the stage was set for the ‘education’ of the American public, with a view to turning it into a population of drug and medico dependents, with the early help of the parents and the schools, then with direct advertising and, last but not least, the influence the advertising revenues had on the media-makers.
It makes sense that if you’re going to make products that alleviate symptoms, but that are potentially dangerous and that could create dependency, then you should create professionals who can help mitigate some of the life-threatening effects while also extolling the benefits.
Obviously, there are plenty of highly trained doctors who aren’t interested in helping fuel the pharmaceutical propaganda machine, but there’s a system in place that virtually ensures that we take the bait.
Flexner effectively created a culture that enabled the monetization of medicine like never before. This might not have been his intent, but the outcome speaks for itself. Flexner threw out the baby with the snake oil. And while some good came out of the Flexner Report, what really came out was a new as-of-yet untapped way to turn a profit through medical science without the competition of medical professionals outside the fold. In short, the Flexner Report enabled a monopoly on healthcare.
Medical professionals who leaned heavily toward natural healing posed the greatest threat to this standardization because they continued to demonstrate that nature has provided what’s necessary to treat or prevent just about any illness. After all, you can’t patent a plant or an essential oil, but you can patent a lab-created molecule that strongly resembles that of the plants. If profits are what you’re after and it all seems rather harmless, why not make some money while you’re making people well.
But here’s one problem with that. Drugs, on the whole (there certainly are exceptions), don’t really make people well. Pharmaceutical success is not based on the effectiveness of the drug. It’s based on the amount of profit it can generate. That’s what “blockbuster” in “blockbuster drug” means.
Drugs do a masterful job of making us feel well, and often pretty quickly. But only temporarily, because drugs are created to treat symptoms and only rarely treat the actual cause. Plus, drugs create their own symptoms, sometimes requiring additional drugs to offset their ill effects. We live in a quick-fix culture where we crave immediate gratification. We certainly have more drive-thru restaurants than we have home gardens.
And let’s be honest. If we’re given a choice between life changes that would solve root causes or take drugs that can make us believe that our health is under control, our convenience-craving minds will choose drugs almost every time. But all convenience comes at a cost and with a long-term loss.
Question: When was the last time a doctor encouraged you to forego a medication in favor of a significant lifestyle adjustment? The truth is, doctors are humans, too, and they’re working under the same pressures and status quo seeded by the development of the Flexner Report — thus the need for this examination. The problem with our thinking is systemic and nearly impossible to pinpoint, but if we could start challenging our assumptions we could get somewhere.
The origin of all of our assumptions about how the medical industry should operate can be encapsulated in works like the Flexner Report and their ilk. Food and the natural world around you can be medicine; proper nutrition can heal the causes, rather than merely treating the symptoms of poor health and a lifetime of abuse.