Lives of the fellows

Franz Joseph Ingelfinger

b.20 August 1910 d.26 March 1980
MD Harvard(1936) FRCP*(1975)

Franz Ingelfinger, late professor of medicine at Boston University, USA, and editor of the New England Journal of Medicine from 1967 to 1977, was born in Dresden, Germany, where his father, Joseph, was a physician and his mother was an American schoolteacher. At the age of twelve, Franz was taken to the United States, becoming an American citizen in 1931 and taking an arts degree at Yale University in 1932. He began his career by helping with his mother’s English students, but soon decided to study medicine. He went to Harvard Medical School where he graduated in 1936, and as there were only two practising gastroenterologists at Boston at that time he decided to become one himself. He trained at Philadelphia, becoming interested in problems of intestinal motility and absorption, and in 1940, four years after he had qualified, he was appointed chief of gastroenterology at the Evans Memorial Hospital, Boston. With his colleagues, Kramer and Bradley, he embarked on a long career as a clinical gastroenterologist. He was active in research and was credited with playing a major role in transforming gastroenterology from a largely empirical specialty into one with a sound scientific basis. He did original work in the motions and contractions of the oesophagus and intestines; in the role of the liver in many diseases, and in the occurrence of megaloblastic anaemia after total gastrectomy.

While professor of medicine at Boston University he also taught at Harvard and Tufts, and former students remember him as a brilliant, charismatic teacher and a superb diagnostician.

In 1967 he succeeded Joseph Garland as editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. The journal then had a circulation of 105,978 and a national reputation for the technical competence of its articles. Ingelfinger acquired the necessary business knowledge very quickly and set out to broaden the scope of the journal to include social and ethical problems affecting medicine and society, and he developed the correspondence section into a lively forum for new ideas. He applied more stringent criteria to papers submitted for publication, and they would be rejected if medical data had already appeared substantially in the lay press. On the other hand, he was always ready to publish outspoken articles on politically sensitive topics, and made a courageous attack on laetrile, the quack cure for cancer. Ingelfinger was known for his wit, commitment to accuracy, prolific writing and drive, and he loved controversy and new challenges. When he retired, the journal’s circulation had reached 169,873 and had editions in Europe. The number of articles submitted increased by 140%. The journal was first issued in 1812 and since then the publication has become essential to most doctors; at the time of Ingelfinger’s death the circulation had reached 205,000.

In 1941 he married Sarah Parson, daughter of Arthur Asahel Shurcliff, a landscape architect, and they had a son and a daughter. The son, Joseph A Ingelfinger, is a physician in Boston.

In 1975 he became gravely ill and was operated on for adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus. The operation was successful and he survived for over four years and continued to lecture and write, despite the disabling effects of radiation treatment. In 1977 he retired from his post as editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and was succeeded by Arnold S Reiman. He died three years later, survived by his wife and children.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
Valérie Luniewska

* Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature.."

[Brit.med.J., 1980, 280, 1057; New York Times, 27 Mar 1980; Forum on Medicine, Apr 1980, 294-295]

(Volume VII, page 296)

<< Back to List