Centennial Celebration 1909 - 2009
Within the Walter Reed Army Medical Center logo, the symbol of the torch and flame illuminated the century-long legacy of knowledge, expertise, and compassion in health care found at the original Walter Reed and continued at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) - Bethesda. It also symbolizes the tradition of world-renowned academic training and medical research synonymous with Dr. Walter Reed.
Early in the 20th century, the U.S. Army had several named temporary hospitals, Sternberg in Manila after Brigadier General George Miller Sternberg, for example, but the Army’s permanent hospitals in the United States were unnamed. Therefore, it may be considered surprising that the Army named its newest and largest hospital, in 1909, not after a famous general officer or war hero, but after a western frontier doctor who never saw combat in a career spanning more than 25 years, and who did not rise above the rank of major.
His accomplishments, however, were truly extraordinary. Without a shot being fired and with the loss of but one man, he planned and executed arguably the Army’s most successful campaign ever - a campaign against the lack of rigorous scientific study and proof with its resultant ignorance and misadventure; a campaign insistent on scientific design and process, evidence over anecdote, and scientific proof over burning desire for acknowledgement.
This man, Major Walter Reed, Medical Corps, U.S. Army, led a military mission to Cuba in June 1900 and within just eight months discovered the secret to the perennial and gruesome killer, yellow fever. He built on the knowledge of others and was blessed with good fortune, at every decision point, to make the correct choice that would lead him in the right direction to the scientifically correct answer. This in turn made it possible for others, principally Major William Crawford Gorgas, to successfully apply his results to banish the dreaded scourge. Walter Reed, however, remains the name most associated with the conquest of yellow fever. No doubt, he would have been immortalized with the Nobel Prize had his attack of appendicitis and the resulting peritonitis not claimed his life at age 51 years in the fall of 1902.
Importantly, the name Walter Reed is still known worldwide more than a century later. Principally through the untiring efforts of Major William Cline Borden, possibly Reed’s closest physician friend, the Army named its new hospital in Washington, DC, in recognition of this hero of medical science. Walter Reed General Hospital opened in May 1909, with 10 patients and is still referred to as "Borden’s Dream." Fourteen years later, General John J. Pershing signed the War Department Order creating the Army Medical Center and, in September 1951, on the 100th anniversary of Walter Reed's birth, the entire complex became known as Walter Reed Army Medical Center. During its tenure of more than a century, the hospital grew to become one of the best known and most highly regarded institutions of medical care, education and training, and research in the world.
The top quality and innovative health care provided at the original Walter Reed, and continued at WRNMMC, is well known but less visible, mostly behind the scenes to the public, is the medical education and training provided to the entire spectrum of health care providers from skilled technicians to highly qualified specialists.
One of the reasons a new hospital was approved for Washington, DC in the early 1900’s was the need for training of enlisted men as hospital corpsmen and hospital stewards. The Company of Instruction training at the out-dated hospital at Washington Barracks (now Fort McNair) was moved to the new Walter Reed and a century of health care training began.
Walter Reed General Hospital was the training site for the Army School of Nursing established during World War I in 1918 to meet the needs of the "war to end all wars." The first graduating class in 1921 of over 400 is reputed to be the largest graduating class of nursing students in American history. Class sizes were scaled down after the war and the school was phased out in the early 1930’s. Another war, this time in Southeast Asia, again created a great demand for nurses and brought another nursing school to Walter Reed. The Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing (WRAIN) was established in 1964 in collaboration with the University of Maryland. In its 14 year history, over 1,200 graduates earned their Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
Formal physician training began with the introduction of internships during the 1920’s. Residency training for physicians began in earnest following World War II. The introduction of these programs at Walter Reed mirrored the civilian academic sector in providing specialty training for physicians and supplied the Army with specialists for patient care. By the early 1950’s, the core residencies in internal medicine, general surgery, orthopedics, psychiatry, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology were flourishing. As the practice of medicine and surgery became more diverse, specialties and subspecialties were established, the Army followed suit and Walter Reed lead the way. At the end of this remarkable expansion, Walter Reed sponsored more than 50 separate accredited physician training programs, more than any other military healthcare facility, and rivaled many of the most prestigious civilian medical institutions.
At the time of its centennial, Walter Reed Army Medical Center was the largest and best known military medical center in the world. WRNMMC, its sucessor, is committed to excellence in patient care, medical research, and educational development. It stands in honor of Walter Reed and in recognition of the scientific rigor that his name represents. He gave to man control over that dreadful scourge, yellow fever.