Dartmouth 2011 Honorary Degree Recipient: Howard Hiatt, MD (Doctor of Science)


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Physician and researcher

With a career spanning more than five decades, Dr. Howard Hiatt has been widely recognized for improving health care services through care, teaching, research, and advocacy. He is a former dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and also directly delivered care to thousands of patients as an oncologist, physician, and chief of medicine at Beth Israel Hospital. He has mentored and trained thousands of medical students and physicians. He led the application of decision analysis and clinical effectiveness programs that have greatly improved patient safety and quality of care.

He attended Harvard College and received his MD from Harvard Medical School in 1948. Trained in clinical medicine, biochemistry, and molecular biology, he focused his early research on the application of molecular biology to medical problems, particularly cancer. He was on the team at the Pasteur Institute in Paris that first identified messenger RNA, and was among the first to demonstrate messenger RNA in mammalian cells.

Hiatt was the first Blumgart Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the physician-in-chief at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, from 1963 to 1972. During his tenure, Beth Israel became one of the first teaching hospitals to bring the application of molecular and cell biology to medical problems and to develop teaching and research programs in primary care.

From 1972 to 1984, as dean of Harvard School of Public Health, he greatly strengthened its statistics programs, introduced molecular and cell biology into its research and teaching, and began the first public health school program in health policy and management.

Since 1985, as professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and senior physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, he has directed a study of medical injury, malpractice, and the tort litigation system, still the most comprehensive study of hospital injuries and their legal and economic consequences. He helped develop the research Training in Clinical Effectiveness Program, which trains physicians to research issues of quality and cost of medical care.

He has been a strong advocate on behalf of vulnerable populations in the United States and worldwide. He co-founded and was associate chief of the Brigham’s Division of Global Health Equity, which addresses health and social problems of people in resource-poor settings around the world, including the United States.

Hiatt’s research articles have appeared in the Journal of Molecular Biology, Journal of Biological Chemistry, New England Journal of Medicine, and Journal of the American Medical Association, among others. He has also written in the areas of disease prevention, health services, and the health implications of the nuclear arms race. His book, Medical Lifeboat: Will There Be Room For You in the Health Care System?, was published in 1989.

From 1991 to 1997, he was secretary of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, where until 2001 he directed the Initiatives for Children program. His other memberships include the Association of American Physicians, Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, American Society for Clinical Investigation, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the American Public Health Association.

He has served on the boards of Physicians for Human Rights, the Institute for Health Care Improvement, Partners in Health, the Gateway Program of the New York City school system, and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. In addition, he worked with founders of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear war.

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Susan J. Boutwell