History of Pathology & Cell Biology at Columbia

A Biography of Arthur Purdy Stout

By Alain Borczuk and Richard Kessin

Dr. Stout was the head of Surgical Pathology at P&S from 1928 to1951, but remained active in Pathology until he died in 1967. He was an expert in the diagnosis of tumors, particularly of the peripheral nervous system, but his greatest contribution was in the development of Surgical Pathology as an essential part of surgery.  That was not always the case, as the following reminiscence from Dr. Stout shows:

When I first studied pathology I was told that it was possible to have a cancer of the lung but I was never shown the lungs of a person who had died of lung cancer nor during my entire four years in the medical school did I ever have a chance to examine a patient with lung cancer.  How different from today when lung cancer stands high on the list of the causes of death, particularly among war veterans, thanks largely to the enormous increase of cigarette smoking. A. Purdy Stout, 1961.

Dr. Stout understood the importance of histopathology in the understanding of disease and used this to bridge clinical presentation and patient outcome by careful morphologic assessment and classification. These insights, like the one above, led to observations that form the basis of surgical pathology and we practice them so readily and have integrated them so thoroughly that we cannot envision that there was a time when this practice did not exist.

For many years, through two World Wars, Dr. Stout taught and traveled, bringing new technologies and teaching methods to Columbia. His autobiography describes the history of our medical center, including the construction of the current campus, the first admission of women (we were late) and the extraordinary characters (Penfield, Whipple) with whom he worked. By his own admission he discovered nothing novel, but we owe him the structure of surgical pathology residency programs at Columbia and he gave the institution a long life of teaching. He died at 82, having just given a clinical conference.  His memory is preserved in the Arthur Purdy Stout Society of Surgical Pathologists which now has over 400 members from different parts of the United States and throughout the world. For more, see: www.apssociety.org.

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