Medicine cannot be practiced by books alone; one might as well try to swim by reading.” That’s a homily from Dr. Benjamin Rush, the only university-trained medical doctor to sign the Declaration of Independence, an early advocate of women’s rights and a critic even back then of the medical profession.
Not long ago Benjamin’s great-great-grandson Alexander Rush helped dedicate a new building housing Chicago’s Rush University. Named after Benjamin, the university trains professionals in health care (doctors, nurses and allied scientists). In a speech that his famous forebear would surely have approved, Alexander Rush charged that there is too much “concentration on grades and aptitude tests” as criteria for admission to medical school, and not enough attention paid to “dedication, integrity, honesty and above all compassion.”
Like Benjamin, Alexander (“Sandy”) Rush is a Philadelphian. He studied at Princeton, as Benjamin did, although it was called the College of New Jersey in those days. The younger Rush earned his medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania, where Benjamin taught. Now 66, Alexander is associate professor of clinical medicine at his alma mater and staff president at Pennsylvania Hospital.
Today’s Dr. Rush has always been interested in his famous ancestor and even owns some letters he wrote. Recently, spurred by Bicentennial fever, Rush has been reading up on the patriot’s life so he can better answer questions from history buffs.
Sandy Rush nearly became an architect. Now he enjoys the field vicariously: one of his and wife Carol’s two daughters and her husband are members of the profession in Toronto.