Since 1958, the Association of American Medical Colleges has given out each year the Abraham Flexner Award for Distinguished Service to Medical Education. The award is the association’s highest honor and recognizes individuals whose contributions have had a demonstrable impact on advancing medical education.
Often called the “father” of modern medical education, Abraham Flexner was an education specialist who was commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to assess the state of medical education in the United States and Canada in the early part of the 20th century. Flexner visited all 155 medical schools existing at the time and issued a detailed report in 1910 — Medical Education in the United States and Canada, also known as the Flexner Report — that called for major reforms to medical education, including higher admissions standards for students, adherence to the scientific method in research and practice, and oversight by state licensure boards. The Flexner Report is widely credited with standardizing and improving medical education, particularly in its insistence that rigorous scientific methods form the basis of education and training of future physicians.
But those more rigorous standards advocated by Flexner came at a cost, particularly for schools that did not have the resources to implement them. Indeed, within 15 years, 89 of the original 155 schools had closed, including five of the seven existing schools devoted to educating Black physicians. A study published earlier this year found that that if all seven medical schools that educated Black physicians in the early 20th century had remained open, an additional 35,315 Black physicians would have entered the workforce between the time the schools closed and 2019.
Flexner also espoused racist views. In his report, Flexner wrote that Black students should be trained as “sanitarians” rather than surgeons and their primary role should be to protect White people from disease. “A well-taught negro sanitarian will be immensely useful; an essentially untrained negro wearing an M.D. degree is dangerous.”
As a result, the association is dropping the Flexner name from the award. It will now be called the AAMC Award for Excellence in Medical Education.
David J. Skorton, president of the Association of American Medical Colleges, stated that “dedicating a namesake award to Abraham Flexner is antithetical to our shared vision of the AAMC and academic medicine institutions as diverse, equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist organizations. Recognizing the complexity and symbolic nature of awards, the AAMC decided to take this action now to demonstrate our commitment to these ideals. Our action recognizes the long-standing negative impact of the Flexner Report on the training of Black physicians and the health of the Black community in the United States.”