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Dr. Edyth Hull Schoenrich

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1919

Medical School

University of Chicago School of Medicine



Career Path

Public health
Dr. Edyth Hull Schoenrich


Dr. Edyth Schoenrich played a leading role in the development of one of the premier preventive medicine programs in the United States at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.
Dr. Edyth Schoenrich was the first woman to be appointed to the American Board of Preventive Medicine.


The story began in my sixth year in elementary school, when our natural sciences teacher, who was gifted in opening the minds of young people, inspired our class about the wonders of the life process. Her classroom was always full of exciting living events such as sprouting seeds, tadpoles turning into frogs, and other wonders. At that age I developed an irresistible and all-encompassing desire to understand the life process. I fixed upon the prospect that the profession of medicine would answer all my questions. Hence, my trajectory into medical school. I will comment that I am still seeking answers to many of the questions that I had as a child.


Edyth Schoenrich, M.D., has had a wide-ranging and influential in medicine, as a physician, researcher, administrator, and teacher. Now in her 80s, Dr. Schoenrich is sharing her experiences and training the next generation of public health professionals.

Born Edyth Hull in 1919 in Cleveland, Ohio, her interest in science began "in sixth grade, when our natural science teacher... inspired our class about the wonders of the life process: sprouting seeds, tadpoles turning into frogs, and other wonders. At that age I developed an irresistible...desire to understand the life process. I fixed upon the prospect that the medical profession would answer all my questions...[Yet] I am still seeking answers to many of the questions I had as a child."

She earned a bachelor of arts degree at Duke University in 1941, and then went on to postgraduate studies in psychology. She received her doctor of medicine degree from the University of Chicago School of Medicine in 1947. "There were only three women in my class of seventy-five," she remembers, "which is quite in contrast to the situation now, in which over 50 percent of admissions to U.S. medical schools are now women."

Following her graduation from medical school, Dr. Schoenrich completed an internship and residency at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She was then appointed chief resident in medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and also held post-doctoral fellowships in hematology and oncology. She was only the second woman ever to be chief resident on one of the medical services. During that time, she recalls, she was particularly concerned with the "personal tragedies and societal costs of advanced illness," and began to focus her attention on preventive health. In further post-doctoral study she worked for the American Cancer Society doing research in hematology and oncology. She was appointed instructor in medicine at Johns Hopkins in1953, and in 1966 she was named assistant professor.

From 1963 to 1966 Dr. Schoenrich also pursued her growing interest in preventive medicine at Baltimore City Hospital, working as assistant chief and then interim chief of a service for chronically ill and aging adults. The emphasis in the program was on preserving a high standard of quality of life for patients with chronic illnesses. She has held a series of appointments in departments of medicine and public health

In 1969, at age 52, Dr. Schoenrich decided to get a master's degree in public health at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. This degree, she notes, gave her the analytical and administrative skills for her work in public health. Subsequently, she was invited to join the faculty. There, the emphasis was on a population or community-based approach to health and disease. In her teaching, she emphasized how to bring about organizational and community change and improve community health

In 1971 Dr. Schoenrich was appointed director of the Administration of Chronically Ill and Aging, part of the Maryland State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. There, she was in charge of all state programs for disease control and prevention. She was also responsible for directing three hospitals for chronic disease and rehabilitation, and two tuberculosis hospitals.

Dr. Schoenrich has held a series of appointments at Johns Hopkins, serving as director of the Division of Public Health Administration from 1974 to 1977, and as associate dean for Academic Affairs in the school of public health from 1977 to 1986. She is currently director of Part-time Professional Programs, helping working physicians and health care professionals complete additional study. Having earned her master's in public health by studying part-time she is personally familiar with the challenges faced by these students.

In 1996 the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health established the "Edyth H. Schoenrich Professorship in Preventive Medicine," commemorating her work in the field as well as her long association with the university and continued role in the careers of health professionals training today.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

Of course, women were clearly a tiny minority of students studying medicine at the time I was in medical school (in the late 1940s). There were some disadvantages, but I would like to point out one advantage of being in a minority group. If one performs well, being a member of a minority, it can result in being noticed and remembered in a positive way. For example, in one session in medical school, a professor who later became a Nobel laureate used one of his "trick questions." After he asked the question, I quite suddenly realized what the answer had to be, raised my hand, and responded correctly. After that, other professors in the University of Chicago School of Medicine when they passed me in the hall would say, "Oh, you're the one who answered Professor [anonymous]'s trick question!" This turned out to be an interesting advantage.

How do I make a difference?

In regard to the aspects of my life that have been most satisfying, and in which I may have made a difference, I can say with considerable conviction that these moments have been highly individualized. For example, I remember very clearly the great gratification that I received in helping individual patients whom I remember quite clearly over fifty or sixty years later. At the present time, some of my greatest gratification is related to assisting graduate students in the field of public health. My generation and the immediate generation following me are passing. The younger men and women are the future, and the responsibility for the health and welfare of the communities in which they live and work will rest with them.

Who was my mentor?

There have been throughout my whole period of professional study and careers, gentle and understanding mentors who were of very great assistance both at an academic and personal level. In my instance, these were always men rather than women, something which I think was due to the fact that there were so very few women in medical studies in the large academic institutions with which I was involved. Now I understand that with more women in prominent positions in medicine, there is a far stronger mentoring system of women-to-women than existed at the time I was a student and in my early career.

How has my career evolved over time?

Medicine allows one not to have just a single career, but options for multiple careers. In my own case, I have had careers in clinical medicine, clinical research, the practice of preventive medicine, public administration, teaching, curriculum design, and academic administration.

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