Name and location of repository
Level of description
Robert E. Shank Oral History
- 6/27/1980 (Creation)
0.05 Linear Feet
Name of creator
Robert E. Shank (1914-2000) was a graduate of Washington University School of Medicine, Class of 1939, and a resident at Barnes Hospital (1939-1940) and at St. Louis Isolation Hospital (1941). In late 1941 he became an assistant in research and resident physician at the hospital of the Rockefeller Institute in New York. While retaining these positions, Shank entered the U.S. Navy in 1942 and was assigned to the hospital's Naval Research Unit. Returning to civilian life in 1946, he became an associate of the New York Public Health Research Institute. In 1948 Shank was called to his alma mater in 1948 to become Danforth Professor of Medicine and head of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health.
As head of Preventive Medicine, Shank brought a new research emphasis to his department, that being nutrition studies. He contributed to many projects in this specialty of national and international importance. He was particularly associated with the formation of standards for minimum dietary allowances by the National Research Council Food and Nutrition Board. He served as a consultant to the U.S. Public Health Service, the Interdepartmental Committee on Nutrition for National Defense, the Pan American Health Organization, and several food industry associations. Under his leadership, the scope of the department broadened to include work in rehabilitation, health maintenance organizations, biostatistics, applied physiology, and lipid research.
Shank became professor emeritus in 1981. He proved to be the last regular head of the department: after five years under interim leadership, Preventive Medicine and Public Health was discontinued in January 1987 and its faculty and programs assigned to other departments, notably Internal Medicine.
Scope and content
Shank discusses his student years at the Washington University School of Medicine and his research with Dr. David Barr; his research at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research during World War II; and his postwar research at the Public Health Research Institute for the City of New York. The conversation then focuses on the major research focus of Shank’s career – nutritional studies. Shank relates his experiences conducting nutritional study research in Newfoundland; the study of nutrition during war and the necessity of providing proper nutrition to troops; public health surveys conducted overseas under the auspices of the Interdepartmental Committee on Nutrition for National Defense (ICNND); and his experiences as participant and consultant to the Public Health Service and the Indian Health Service. Shank comments on the challenge of improving nutrition standards in developing countries with steadily increasing populations and the role of the National Research Council and the Food Nutrition Board in the development of standards of recommended dietary allowances of nutrients. He also discusses the growth of the vitamin industry, nutrition in prepared and baby foods, and obesity. The discussion then covers the development of the WUSM Department of Preventive Medicine while Shank was its head – the Irene Walter Johnson Institute of Rehabilitation, the Medical Care Group under its initial director Gerald Perkoff, the division of biostatistics, Health Care Research, applied physiology, epidemiology, and lipid research. Interviewed by Paul G. Anderson on June 27, 1980. OH044. Approximate Length 130 minutes.
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The collection is open and accessible for research.
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Item description, Reference Code, Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives, Washington University in St. Louis.
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Related archival materials
Oral history interview: http://beckerexhibits.wustl.edu/oral/interviews/shank.html
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