Interview with Ellis Benson

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Interview with Ellis Benson

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University of Minnesota


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Ellis Benson starts with his background, including growing up in China (his parents were missionaries), why he went into medicine and academic medicine, and his educational history. He discusses his residency in pathology at the UMN, his internal medicine residency at the VA Hospital, joining the Department of Laboratory Medicine, his work while he was in charge of the blood bank, his work as director of Clinical Laboratories, and his work as head of Pathology. He offers reflections on cardiac surgeons Richard Varco and Walter Lillehei and how they dealt with the Lab and the Blood Bank, as well as working with the Department of Surgery and surgeons more generally. He discusses the appointment of Robert Howard as dean of the College of Medical Sciences in 1959 and Howard’s deanship, the Vice President of the Health Sciences search and the appointment of Lyle French. He also discusses Franz Halberg, and David Brown. He discusses his work on protein chemistry and going to the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen, the UMN’s Clinical Laboratory providing community services to anyone in Minnesota, the Medical Technology program, why technologists tended to be women, and specialization in medicine. He describes the founding of the Academy of Clinical Laboratory Physicians and Scientists, the creation of the Department of Laboratory Medicine at the UMN in 1959, space issues in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the merger of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, and the relationships between the clinical and basic science departments within the Medical School. He discusses the attempt to establish a second medical school in St. Paul, relations between the Medical School and other UMN health science schools in the 1960s and 1970s, faculty attitudes toward the 4 reorganization in 1970, the impact of the introduction of Medicaid and Medicare, the attempt to create a School of Allied Health Sciences in the late 1960s and early 1970s, relations between the Medical School and the Mayo Clinic, and relations with the University Hospitals.


Ellis Benson was born in 1919 in Hsuchang, Honan, China, where his parents were American missionaries. He did his undergraduate education at Luther College in Wahoo, Nebraska, and then Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. He received his MD from the University of Minnesota in 1945. He interned at the Cincinnati General Hospital from 1944-45, then served as a general medical officer in the US Army’s Medical Corps from 1945-47. From 1947-49, he took his residencies in pathology then internal medicine at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis. Benson joined the faculty of UMN in 1949 as an instructor in medicine and pathology. In 1953, he was appointed assistant professor of Medicine and Pathology and Associate Director of Clinical Laboratories. In 1957, as a senior resident fellow of the US Public Health Service and Associate Professor of Medicine and Pathology, he spent one year in the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen carrying out research. In 1959, he became Associate Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Biochemistry and Director of Clinical Laboratories. He was promoted to full professor in 1961 and appointed head of the Department of Laboratory Medicine in 1966. In 1989, he retired from his position as professor and chairman of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology. Benson is an internationally recognized expert in pathology training and his research focuses on cardiac muscle, including both chemical and electromicroscopic studies.

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Tobbell, Dominique A.; Benson, Ellis. (2009). Interview with Ellis Benson. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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