Henry Ford Hospital’s First Physician-in-Chief

“The great need of the world has always been for leaders. With more leaders we could have more industry. More industry, more employment and comfort for all.”
– Henry Ford

Leaders define an industry, rise to the challenge, create a path where there is none, and leave a great mark, a lasting legacy that inspires generations.

Dr. Frank Sladen

From the Conrad R. Lam Collection, Henry Ford Health System. ID=01-013

Dr. Frank J. Sladen was such a leader; for nearly 60 years he was an invaluable member of the Henry Ford Hospital staff, not only as a physician, but also as a medical educator, scholar, and administrator.

Dr. Sladen was Henry Ford Hospital’s “first” physician and most notably its first physician-in-chief, appointed by Henry Ford himself in 1915.

But his medical career in Detroit began several years beforehand, when Detroit General Hospital – which would become Henry Ford Hospital in 1915 – was in its infancy.

He was recruited to Detroit General Hospital by Dr. Carl R. Meloy and Dr. William F. Metcalf from Johns Hopkins after serving as Resident in Medicine and Associate Professor of Medicine under renowned physician, Professor Sir William Osler.

“The new hospital, the Detroit General, will be by far the best thing in Detroit, and though comparatively small in the beginning is ideally planned and will be founded upon ideal principles,” Dr. Meloy wrote to Dr. Sladen in 1911.

Drs. Meloy, Metcalf and Torrey – the team working to organize, fund and build the new hospital – wanted to bring the best to Detroit. Hopkins was home to the finest physicians in America, and Dr. Sladen was one of the best and brightest of the young physicians at that institution.

After another year of correspondence between the physicians, which included sharing with him preliminary sketches of the outpatient building, Dr. Sladen came to Detroit in 1913 to serve as the chief of medical service for the Detroit General Hospital.

A year later, in 1914, Henry Ford took over the finances and committed himself to completing the hospital as Henry Ford Hospital. He first selected Dr. Sladen as the physician-in-chief.

Upon his appointment, Dr. Sladen closed his private practice at the David Whitney Building in September 1915 and brought his patients with him to Henry Ford Hospital, “forming the core of the Hospital’s initial clinical practice and establishing its early reputation with wealthy Detroiters.”

Henry Ford modeled the institution after the closed group practice system of Johns Hopkins. His vision for Henry Ford Hospital was one of community service in order to assist the growing population of Detroit, especially by serving as a referral hospital for the many general practitioners in the city, as well as serving the “common man.”

Starting with Dr. Sladen, Ford created a unique modern hospital with a nationally recognized staff of medical specialists. Dr. Sladen was instrumental in recruiting the first cohort of physicians and surgeons that we now call the Henry Ford Medical Group.

Many of these were recruited from Johns Hopkins and formed the basis of the academic practices in education and research at Henry Ford Hospital that were present essentially since inception.

In the early years, Dr. Sladen served as the hospital’s expert for infectious diseases, neurology, and arthritis. The U.S. soon entered World War I, and Henry Ford Hospital became an Army hospital.

Dr. Sladen worked in association with the City of Detroit Health Department in battling the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 in which more than 8,000 people in Detroit died. His later research included work on aging and in chronic rheumatic diseases.  He was a champion of medical education and social services.

Among Dr. Sladen’s many achievements at Henry Ford Hospital:

  • His work with the architect Albert Wood on the original hospital design
  • Persuading Henry Ford to establish a nursing school, following WWI, which opened in 1925 on the hospital campus
  • Driving the development and building of the current 17 floor clinic building

His years as a leading physician continued until his retirement in 1952.  He was then named a medical consultant and practiced medicine at the hospital until 1971.

After his death in 1973, the Henry Ford Hospital library was renamed the Dr. Frank J. Sladen Medical Library.  Dr. Sladen was a prolific antiquarian book collector, a library committee member of the Wayne County Medical Society and was responsible for the 1915 founding of the Henry Ford Hospital library.

A noted medical historian, Dr. Sladen’s own manuscript collection is now preserved in the Henry Ford Health System Archives.


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