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History of Pediatrics
September 2000

Blowing the Whistle: The Internship of William Carlos Williams, MD, and His Abrupt Resignation From the New York Nursery and Child's Hospital

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, Historical Center for the Health Sciences, Simpson Memorial Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The author served as a fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers of the New York Public Library, New York, during the academic year of 1999-2000.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2000;154(9):952-955. doi:10.1001/archpedi.154.9.952

It is fitting that it was a pathology professor, William Henry Welch, who best described what constituted a complete and successful career in medicine: "the almost perfect adaptation of [one's] talent and temperament to the accidents and circumstances of his life"1(pxi) (Welch WH, review of The Life of Sir William Osler, Harvey Cushing Papers, Yale University Manuscript Collections, Microfilm 124, p 39). Although Welch was writing about the exemplary life of Sir William Osler, the axiom could be equally applied to the poet-physician William Carlos Williams, MD. This article will discuss Dr Williams' pediatrics internship at the New York Nursery and Child's Hospital between 1908 and 1909, an intriguing period in his life that both tested his character and demonstrates how chance or circumstance can have remarkable consequences in life. It was during this year that Williams engaged in a protracted battle with the hospital's administration over an order that he endorse a report of hospital bills to be sent to the State of New York. Williams objected because the hospital would not provide him with the appropriate documentation that the listed services were actually rendered. Although many of Williams' senior physicians told him to simply sign the billing report and be done with the matter, the young pediatrician's moral convictions resulted in his abrupt resignation from his post many months before he completed his internship. To the historian's delight, Williams' papers and letters easily allow a reconstruction of this chain of events that not only drastically altered the course of Williams' medical career but also had a lasting impact on American literature. For the pediatrician of the 21st century, the episode affords a parable about the importance of honesty in medical reporting and the uncomfortable role of "whistle-blower."

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