The Connecticut State Medical Society has begun its third century as the voice and focus in our state for the men and women who inhabit the ever-changing world of medicine. Since its founding, the Connecticut State Medical Society has worked to serve these physicians and their patients.
The mission of the Connecticut State Medical Society is to be the voice of all Connecticut physicians; to lead physicians in advocacy; to promote the profession of medicine; to improve the quality of care; and to safeguard the health of our patients.
Chartered by the State legislature in 1792, the Society is believed to be the third oldest such group in continuous operation. A statewide committee was originally organized by physicians of the Medical Society of New Haven County in 1784 for the purpose of seeking such a charter. However, after their legislative efforts failed in 1785 and 1787, they appointed “a committee to engage an attorney to attend the petition and get it through the Assembly.”
In addition, the outlying counties sent delegations of physicians to Hartford as the crucial time approached. The result was the first private charter granted by the state. The victory was celebrated at the first convention of “the President and Fellows,” held the same year in the courthouse at Middletown, on October 9 and 10, 1792.
The roots of CSMS go back even further into the colonial period, however, with physicians meeting for this purpose in Hartford County and New London County in 1774. Some Litchfield County physicians and others first organized themselves in 1767, as the “Medical Corporation in Litchfield County” to advance medical knowledge and to protect the public health.
In 1763, 11 physicians of Norwich actually petitioned the legislature for approval of a society of physicians from each of the counties. The Society’s annals also list the names of 14 physicians who met in New Haven as early as 1739 to formulate a plan to found a medical society for the colony.
Once organized, the founders achieved professional accomplishments not possible to individuals working alone. The New Haven County Medical Society was widely acclaimed for its publication in 1788 of a volume entitled “Cases and Observations,” the first medical transactions published in the New World.
In its early years, CSMS established a system for physician licensure, and in 1812 achieved legislation leading to the establishment of a medical school, the “Medical Institution of Yale College.” And it was an early CSMS president who sparked the founding in 1816 of a school for deaf and mute persons.
In 1822, the Society’s efforts resulted in the founding of the “Connecticut Retreat,” one of the nation’s first centers for the treatment of mental disorders, now known as the Institute of Living in Hartford. 1826 saw the founding of the first “General Hospital of Connecticut” through the Society’s endeavors, now known as Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Legislation was recommended in 1841 for a state registry of deaths and their causes, and in 1873 for a State Board of Health.
A CSMS physician, Jonathan Knight, was the president of the two national medical conventions that succeeded in the founding of the American Medical Association in 1847.
Over the years, medicine has changed, and the Society has faced new challenges, but one thing has never changed: the perennial necessity to foster and preserve the independence and freedom of physicians to render to each and every patient the best care possible. In 1792, the General Assembly of Connecticut saw fit to grant to physicians a charter enabling them to make such a benefit available in every corner of the state through their own self-regulation and continuing education.
Now, more than two centuries later, physicians still have this responsibility. The professionalism it implies is demonstrated every time a patient is treated, every time a colleague’s credentials or treatment is reviewed by his or her peers, every time a continuing medical education (CME) program is planned or attended, and every time the physicians of this state and of its several counties claim their ancient heritage to gather together, to speak with one voice, and to take concerted action on behalf of their profession and of their patients.
Membership and participation in medical societies is the key to preserving the integrity and independence of physicians for their professional descendents centuries hence. This is the way physicians perpetuate the legacy that gives devoted practitioners a meaningful life well spent in learning and service.