At 100 Years Old, Department of Pediatrics Poised for More Great Things

At 100 Years Old, Department of Pediatrics Poised for More Great Things

Mary Emery, daughter-in-law of the founder of Emery Industries, endowed the B.K. Rachford chair of pediatrics, which helped establish a relationship between Cincinnati Children's and the UC College of Medicine.

Early in Cincinnati Children’s history, our leaders recognized our potential to be more than a community hospital. They understood that if we aspired to significantly improve child health, we­ would have to be innovators—not just managing symptoms of diseases but finding cures and ways to prevent them.

Just over 100 years ago, Cincinnati Children’s took an important step to achieve that goal by establishing an affiliation with the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine (UCCOM) to serve as its Department of Pediatrics.

Let’s start at the beginning.

UCCOM’s first department of pediatrics was established sometime in the 1890s. It was called the Department of the Diseases of Children. Between 1900 and 1910, the name was changed to the Department of Pediatrics and was headed by Benjamin Knox Rachford, MD.

Mary Emery, a Cincinnati philanthropist and hospital benefactor, was a friend of Rachford’s, and in 1920, when he stepped down from his position, she endowed a pediatrics chair in his honor. Kenneth Blackfan, MD, was chosen as the first B.K. Rachford Chair. This gift created the eighth endowed chair at the College of Medicine.

Who Are the B.K. Rachford Chairs?

The relationship between Cincinnati Children's and the UCCOM became official in 1926 upon execution of an affiliation agreement as construction on the new Children’s Hospital was nearing completion. It was strengthened further by William Cooper Procter’s $2.5 million research endowment in 1928.

Procter, who chaired our Board of Trustees at the time, firmly believed Children’s Hospital’s ability to thrive depended on a strong academic affiliation, as it would allow us to attract the best and brightest talent. A century’s worth of achievements that have changed the outcome for millions of children around the world would ultimately prove him correct.

“The partnership between the College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s is one of the greatest success stories of Cincinnati. The educational collaboration and research accomplishments during the last century have been monumental while, most importantly, children here and across the globe have benefitted. We continue to be rewarded today by the wisdom of our predecessors in forging this relationship and the community leaders who supported it throughout the years,” says Andrew T. Filak Jr., MD, senior vice president for health affairs and Christian R. Holmes Professor and Dean of the College of Medicine.

“Cincinnati Children's is a complex institution with complex organizational and reporting structures. But the amazing thing is that it works, and that's because there's a lot of collegiality and cooperation, which is one of our greatest strengths.”
--Tom DeWitt, MD

Previous B.K. Rachford Chairs Weigh In

"Cincinnati Children's and its Research Foundation have been a leading contributor to child health for the past century, driven in large part by innovation through research, responsive child healthcare and family support, and model educational programs for an array of health professionals. An amazing Department of Pediatrics faculty has played a catalytic role in these programs from the start. Collaborating with pediatric surgical, radiology and anesthesiology faculty colleagues, the current Pediatric Department faculty and its leadership are poised to make even greater contributions to child and lifespan health, and through these efforts foster a healthier, more equitable, happier, and more productive future." -- Tom Boat, MD "I was honored to serve Cincinnati Children’s and the Cincinnati community as Rachford Chair from 2007-2014. We were able to substantially expand our faculty, leading to new patient care programs, increases in research funding, and many research discoveries that will improve the lives of children throughout the world. Our great people do make ours the best children's hospital in the world." -- Arnold Strauss, MD "What has always inspired me is the foresight of Mary Emery's commitment to children's health through endowing the leadership position charged with their welfare. The B.K. Rachford professors have made that charge their mission." --Margaret “Peggy” Hostetter, MD
"One of our novel educational approaches has been 'to grow our own' in areas where there is a scarcity of providers. At completion of their training, residents are board-certified in pediatrics, their specialty (medicine, neurology, physical medicine and rehabilitation, psychiatry, genetics, etc., as well as the appropriate pediatric subspecialty)." ­­Mike Farrell, MD

A Distinctive Difference

Today’s Department of Pediatrics consists of 41 clinical and research divisions, which report to Tina Cheng, MD, the current (and 9th) B.K. Rachford chair. Cheng reports to our president and CEO, Michael Fisher, and Filak.

Along with being the Rachford Chair (an academic role), Cheng is chief medical officer (a hospital role) and director of the Research Foundation (a combined role).

Says Tom DeWitt, MD, outgoing chair of the Graduate Medical Education Committee, and former director of General and Community Pediatrics, “In many organizations, those three positions are held by three separate individuals. At Cincinnati Children’s, we’ve blended them together. This might cause conflict elsewhere, but here, it facilitates the collaboration, which is one of our big successes.”

Though not the oldest in the country, our Department of Pediatrics is one of the largest, which means we have strengths in all areas of pediatrics that span our three-pronged mission of clinical care, education and research. There are other characteristics that distinguish us, as well:

  • Few departments of pediatrics at other institutions invest as heavily in research as we do. We have research across the translational spectrum from basic science discovery to clinical and population health research.
  • We are a national leader in safety and quality improvement.
  • Our mental health program is one of the largest and most comprehensive, reflecting our commitment to this important component of overall health.
  • The spirit of collaboration and cooperation among clinical and translational research divisions is uniquely strong.

Says DeWitt, “Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Boston Children’s grew up being part of strong research entities (the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard, respectively). Cincinnati Children’s did not, so we had to learn as we went. In some ways, that was good, because it helped us develop that sense of collaboration, cooperation and integration, which has worked so well.”

The collaborative spirit extends into the community, notes Mike Farrell, MD, professor of pediatrics and former Chief of Staff. “Past Rachford Chairs, like Ashley Weech and A. Graeme Mitchell, did not have a large faculty. So they depended on community physicians to bring their patients to us. The result was a strong, cooperative relationship between hospital administration and community providers. That relationship continues, even though the dynamics of medical practice have changed. We value our partner physicians in the community and would not be able to fulfill our mission without them.”

Past and Future Possibilities

Our relationship with the College of Medicine and the endowment of the Research Foundation are what determined the trajectory for Cincinnati Children’s to become the organization it is today.

“It set the stage for us to be able to attract the likes of Albert Sabin, Josef Warkany, Sam Kaplan, Helen Berry, Bea Lampkin, Fred Silverman and so many more,” says Farrell. “And that continues to be the case.

“As an academic department, Cincinnati Children’s has always been plugged in to significant trends in science and medicine, which enabled leadership to recruit appropriate staff. In the 1970s, we prepared for the molecular revolution. Today, it’s genetics and bioinformatics.”

The past 100 years of the Department of Pediatrics have been filled with phenomenal growth and accomplishments. But what do the next 100 years hold?

Says Cheng, “Cincinnati Children’s is an incredible place where a lot of firsts have happened, so when we’re thinking about the future, we’re not talking about being average. We’re talking about how we are going to transform pediatric health in the next century. We need to think big.”

Big, says Cheng, means addressing child and family needs, which will likely involve more vaccines to prevent emerging infections like COVID-19; the genomic revolution and how it will help us predict which children will develop illness and when, with the potential to intervene with prevention and treatment. It means big data and how we take all the information we have from electronic medical records and other databases to understand predictors and trajectories of health and disease.

Clearly, there is much to learn and do. And we will approach future challenges in the spirit of being the best at getting better.

Says DeWitt, “Even with the tremendous achievements we’ve had, Cincinnati Children’s has somehow maintained a sense of modesty, knowing we can always work to improve things. This, coupled with the collaborative and cooperative mindset that developed organically, has created a culture that would be almost impossible to replicate somewhere else. We are very fortunate.”

A celebration of the Department of Pediatrics will be held in June. In addition, a speaker series is planned with prominent experts helping us chart our next century. Watch CenterLink for more details.

William Cooper Procter was named Chairman of the Board in 1920. His appointment marked a change in the Children's Hospital leadership structure so that everyone reported to the Board. Procter's vision and his generous endowment were instrumental in setting our path to becoming a global leader in child health.

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