Tufts University, Boston College and Harvard Medical Schools

One of the Other Two Medical Schools

 In the fall of 1969 I entered Medical School at Tufts University in Boston. Located on Harrison Avenue in the southeast corner of the city it is adjacent to both Chinatown, the “Combat Zone,” and is only a few blocks north of Boston City Hospital.

The Combat Zone was Boston’s equivalent to N.Y. City’s Times Square before Rudy Giuliani cleaned out the strip joints, the live sex theaters and the pornography mills. Although smaller than Times Square, it was just as wild. In general, all the areas surrounding the Medical School were less than desirable places to live and ergo potentially dangerous enough to prompt most of us to never walk around by ourselves. Thankfully the student dormitory was directly across the street from the main facility; such that going to school required only a small duck and a run.

The main campus of the University resides in the more genteel suburb of Medford and was a locale I only visited once when several of us ventured out to look for undergraduate dates at a campus party. Other than that, there is little to connect the two facilities because they had historically evolved on separate tracks.

This section of the school was founded as a separate enterprise from the medical school by Charles Tufts in 1852; with the medical school affiliation coming along much later in 1893 when seven prestigious physicians became dissatisfied with what they perceived to be substandard medical training and laboratory facilities in their proprietary school. Although at that time under the aegis of the Boston College of Physicians and Surgeons, these doctors disaffiliated from that body and in seeking a quest for quality, then formed a liaison with Tufts College.

That quest for quality has never been interrupted making, The Tufts New England Medical Center ranked as a top tier research and clinical facility.

One interesting legacy held by Tufts is that for no apparent in 1889, P.T. Barnum donated the stuffed carcass of his famous circus elephant, Jumbo, as a gift to the University after Jumbo was struck and killed by a train. Meanwhile Jumbo’s heart was given to Cornell University while his skeleton was donated to the American Museum of Natural History.

Quite a philanthropist, that P.T. Barnum. Although by modern standards I wonder how one would go about deducting elephant parts on an income tax statement and slide that one past an IRS audit.

Once the giant Mastodon became housed at the facility, it became less than two-step logic before the school subsequently adopted the elephant as their mascot.

This requires me to recant a prior statement that elephants never seem to be adopted as school mascots, except that in this case, using the word “The Jumbos” to describe your athletic teams still qualifies as leaning more toward generic than proprietary nomenclature.

  • Hey look at the size of those motherfuckers.
  • Yeah. Righteous jumbo dudes, man

Unfortunately, however, Jumbo, except for his tail, was destroyed in a fire, after which his ashes were placed in a large Jiffy Peanut Butter jar. The tail was later archived at the university, while the peanut butter jar was relegated to the custody of the Athletic Director’s office, in whose office the urn resides to this day.

Having a tamed circus elephant for a mascot may then account for why the Tufts sports teams never seem to really excel in any Division I category.

Large players, yes; Jiffy players, no.

During football season, it would also seem less than inspiring to roll the ash-filled peanut butter jar around the football stadium or the basketball court on a little cart, even if the tail were to be temporarily de-archived, and glued onto the urn; thus, reuniting the hide with the hair and providing the iconic inspiration needed to whip up crowd enthusiasm.

Here comes Jumbo, the ersatz elephant. Rah, rah, sis boom bah.

Over the next three decades after I enrolled at school, and although the reputation of the Medical School has become quite a bit more prestigious than when I was there, the reputation of Harvard had always overshadowed both Tufts as well as Boston University. It probably still does. After all Harvard is Harvard whereas Tufts and BU were equivalently referred to in the same breath as “one of Boston’s other two medical schools.”

This was somewhat curious because the way clinical programs are set up in Boston; there is significant sharing of resources that inclusively has students from all three schools rotating among all three facilities, thus often crossing paths.

I could never tell the difference in student quality, but once again legacy, breeding and historical perspective reigns supreme in the world of academia, while a preceding reputation such as the awesome aura that hangs over Harvard can be a dangerously intimidating psychological factor.

  • Yeahus, ah, we up heah at Hahvahd by tradition would not remotely consider subordinating or stooping to the plebian, preposterous concept of endorsing a representative mascot. Besides, animals are not only dreggy and odiferous, but also unpredictably drop their foul offal in the most inauspicious places. And, ah, why waste any particulah physical effort on sport anyway? Sport is grimy, sweaty, and grungy, excepting of cauhs for the epee, the tennis, and the golf; and, ah, even these exceptions ah best pursued in private clubs; not schools. No. We, ah, believe rahtha in the intellect and the rule of law, not in the rule of force. Ergo: no point. And although John Hahvahd will now and forever be ouha guiding light and inspiration, we shall thus nevah assume a mascot. We, ah, shall only and abstrusely endoash only a simple color, Crimson.

It was no wonder that many of my classmates developed an inferiority complex about the great penumbra of Harvard which made them unnecessarily think of themselves as lesser entities that could never be equal in quality. I am also sure that the Harvard aristocracy probably also thought of us as being nothing better than tailless, incinerated, peanut butter coated simians.

Although unfairly unfounded, the inferiority stigma stuck, but was yet something that would play itself out later when at least one of my contemporaries, who refusing to be intimidated by tradition, decided to apply for a surgical residency at the Harvard based Massachusetts General Hospital: Medicine’s veritable Mecca.

To make matters worse, the Class of 1973 was the first class graduating college that brought with it the new cultural wave that was bred in the Flower Power amphitheatre of undergraduate school.

This included the first-time appearance of long hair on male medical students, as well as mustaches, sideburns or beards, which caused apoplexy in, and then subsequent harassment by, both faculty and upperclassmen alike.

In fact, one sophomore delivered an explanatory opinion that linked our appearance to genetic mutations caused by excessive ground and atmospheric radiation after the nuclear bombing or atmospheric testing associated with WWII.

But we were not at all amused because we felt he should have first looked at the portraits of Medicine’s founding fathers before denouncing facial hair or wild appearances.

Our mantra was that what was on the inside would count more toward our becoming good, competent, successful physicians and surgeons, than our outward appearance.

Little did we know how the entire profession would become denigrated in the future era of “managed care,” or that casual clothes and golf shirts would eventually replace the white coat and tie: those former imperious images that had been fostered in the era when the doctor was still considered to be God.



I could care less that he can play the violin, or sing or dance, or act in a play.

These are not the attributes I look at when I decide who gets into this Medical School.

(Dean of Admissions at Tufts.)




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