Alvan R. Feinstein (December 4, 1925 – October 25, 2001) was an American clinician, researcher, and epidemiologist with significant influence in clinical research, particularly the field of clinical epidemiology he helped define. He is considered one of the fathers of modern clinical epidemiology. He died on October 25, 2001, in Toronto at the age of 75 and is survived by his wife and two children.
Born in Philadelphia, Feinstein earned his BA (BSc 1947) and MA (MSc, 1948) from the University of Chicago. Feinstein earned his medical degree (MD, 1952) from the University of Chicago School of Medicine. He completed his residency in Internal Medicine at the Rockefeller Institute. He obtained Board Certification of Internal Medicine in 1955 and became medical director of the Irvington House Institute (which later became part of New York University Langone Medical Center).
While there, he studied patients with rheumatic fever and challenged the belief that appropriate treatment after early detection prevents these patients from developing serious heart disease later in life. He showed that there are different forms of the disease, including one that causes joint pain and rarely progresses to heart disease. The other, which causes heart disease, has no signs for early detection. Therefore, diagnosis of the disease at an early stage leads to a positive outcome, not because of early treatment, but because these patients tend to have less virulence forms.
In 1962, Feinstein joined the Yale University School of Medicine faculty and in 1974 became the founding director of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program. Under his direction, the program was recognized as one of the leading centers for training in clinical research methods. He was known for his incredible talents as a mentor, which brought a passion for academic medicine and the art of being a scholar.
He published his first paper in 1951 as a medical student and more than 400 during his career. He wrote six major textbooks; Two of them, Clinical Judgment (1967) and Clinical Epidemiology (1985), are among the most referenced books in clinical epidemiology. He completed his last book, Principles of Medical statistics (2002), just before his death. At the time of his death, he was the Sterling Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, the Yale School of Medicine's most prestigious academic position. His editorial work included the Journal of Chronic Diseases (1982–1988), and he founded and edited the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology (1988–2001).
Throughout his career, Feinstein has received numerous recognitions and awards; Francis Gilman Blake Award (1969) as distinguished teacher to Yale medical students, Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American College of Physicians (1982), Robert J. Glaser Annual Award from the Society of General Internal Medicine (1987), J. Allyn Taylor International Award of Medicine (1987), Gairdner Foundation International Award (1993), and honorary Doctor of Science degree from McGill University (1997). In 1991, Feinstein was named Yale University's most prestigious academic honor, the Sterling Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology.
“Ask stupid questions. If you don't ask, you will remain stupid.”
Alvan R. Feinstein