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JAMA 100 Years Ago
July 23/30, 2003


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2003;290(4):542. doi:10.1001/jama.290.4.542-a

Professor Thorndyke,1 of Columbia University, New York, has traced the careers of 5,283 college graduates (1840-1900) who were elected to the Phi Beta Kappa, membership in which is a recognized mark of scholarship. The object in doing this was to learn whether any given profession is gaining or losing in attractiveness to the type of men represented by membership in this fraternity. In the first place Professor Thorndyke finds that there is a remarkable uniformity in the percentage of Phi Beta Kappa men entering the leading professions, namely, from 64 to 68 per cent. for 1840-1900. But the percentages entering the various professions have been far from constant; thus the number taking up law was nearly twice as large in 1890-1894 as in 1840-1860. There has been considerable variation, too, in the number that have taken up teaching as a profession. The Phi Beta Kappa man was "three times as likely to become a clergyman in the middle of the century as he is to-day." The ministry has lost steadily in its attractiveness to this kind of man, and this loss has been quite uniform throughout the country. It is interesting to note that Professor Thorndyke's statistics show that medicine has not been a popular profession with what he calls scholarly graduates. From 1840-1885 the percentage ran from 8 to 4; from 1885 to 1894 7.5 and 7 per cent. entered medicine. He suggests that the gain after 1885 is due to the advance of medicine to the dignity of a science, and to the introduction into the colleges of elective courses in science. Professor Thorndyke's forecast of the future is as follows: "The future will probably witness a steady gain in medicine, a slight gain in teaching, a rapid but unstable gain in law, and a continued decline in the ministry." At the present time law and teaching get the lion's share of the scholarship of the country, as represented by the careers chosen by the members of Phi Beta Kappa. We believe that the indications point to a steady increase in the number of scholarly men choosing medicine for the field of their life-work. The opportunities for research, specialization and beneficent activities certainly can not but draw to medicine increasing numbers of high-minded college students. The inherent attractiveness of medicine because of the altruistic nature of its functions will be reinforced markedly henceforth by the rapidly growing opportunities to study medicine under propitious conditions, and by the favorable attention it is now receiving at the hands of our best universities on the one side, and of our wealthy philanthropists on the other.