Most ACP officers, members, and staff know that Dr. Heinrich Stern was the founder of the American College of Physicians. What they may not know, however, is that ACP was not the first Internal Medicine organization that Dr. Stern helped to form. Dr. Stern, along with Drs. Rupert Webb Wilcox, Louis Faugères Bishop, Ignatz Morvay Rottenberg, and Thomas F. Reilly, first founded a different entity—the American Congress on Internal Medicine (ACIM)—on January 8, 1915, a full four months before the ACP was formed. The New York Times announced ACIM’s creation and purpose on February 2, 1915: the ACIM was created “to facilitate scientific intercourse among physicians interested in internal medicine and to promote good fellowship between them, by meetings, gatherings, publications and the granting of research fellowships." Significantly, the formation of the ACIM was the first time the term “internal medicine” was used in an organizational name. The Congress neither proposed any specific membership standards, nor planned any activities other than an annual scientific meeting. Membership was open to any “reputable physician” and required a $5.00 annual fee, which would be used to fund an annual clinical meeting.
ACP is Founded
A few months later, on May 11, 1915, the leadership of ACIM founded the American College of Physicians. The early records of ACP do not explain why the founders created two internal medicine organizations so closely together in 1915. The Congress is mentioned in ACP’s original Constitution: Article III states that ACP’s annual meeting will be jointly held with the ACIM, while Article V gives members of ACIM who have been in practice for at least ten years eligibility for election to membership in the ACP. The latter provision can be read to suggest that the ACIM was designed to be a feeder organization for the more exclusive ACP. The membership structure of the organizations supports this hypothesis: during the first decade of both organizations, ACP had two membership classifications: Fellows (2nd class membership) and Masters (1st class membership). Fellows were nominated from ACIM members who demonstrated “special meritorious services rendered to the science and practice of medicine.” In that way, the ACIM acted much as a Triple A team in baseball does, allowing the most talented members to move up to the big league.
On paper, the two organizations were separate entities. Each had its own President and Vice President. In practice, the Council of the ACP, made up of the original officers plus some elected members, ultimately controlled both organizations. Because of its open membership policy, ACIM’s membership naturally grew faster than that of the College. After the death of Heinrich Stern in 1918, Frank Smithies became the central figure in both organizations; he moved their headquarters to his home city of Chicago in 1919. At the same time, ACP’s Constitution was amended in several areas. The 10-year practice requirement for ACIM members to qualify for election to the ACP Fellowship was reduced to three years. The organizations jointly established an official journal, The Annals of Medicine, on February 14, 1920. Due to a dispute with the magazine’s printers, the College and the Congress authorized the founding of the Annals of Clinical Medicine as their new official journal on March 11, 1922.
ACP Absorbs ACIM
During this period, the leadership of the College began to doubt whether it was necessary to maintain ACIM as an affiliated organization. The College had begun to take a more active role in the planning of the shared annual meeting, a job that had previously fallen to the ACIM. College leadership was also concerned about the confusion developed by some ACIM members about the nature of their membership. Some ACIM members believed that they were de facto members of the College, but this simply wasn’t true. Indeed, the ACIM’s less rigorous membership policy attracted many physicians that would likely never attain College membership. Ultimately it was decided that the College should absorb ACIM and dissolve the Congress. In 1926, the College adopted a new Constitution with revised by-laws merging the ACIM into the College. Over 1,000 former ACIM members thus became Associates of the American College of Physicians. Over time, many of these new Associates proved unable to qualify for Fellowship status and gradually withdrew from the College, an act encouraged by the Board of Regents.
- Prepared by Eric Greenberg, based on materials from the Archives of the American College of Physicians
- Morgan, William G. The American College of Physicians: Its First Quarter Century. Philadelphia, 1940.
- Piersol, George M. Gateway of Honor: The American College of Physicians, 1915-1959. Lancaster, PA: Lancaster Press, 1962.
- Tooker, John, and David C. Dale. Serving Our Patients and Profession: a Centennial History of the American College of Physicians (1915-2015). American College of Physicians, 2015