This year marks the 200th anniversary of America’s oldest public medical school—the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. A yearlong celebration in recognition of the school’s 200 years of medical education, research, clinical care, and community service is under way.
With this long life comes a colorful history. In the late 18th century, before the school was founded, Baltimore was a prosperous city of 40,000 people. Malaria, typhoid fever, cholera, yellow fever, and a 30% infant mortality rate contributed to an average lifespan of 34 years. This, combined with lack of training, or even skill, by so-called doctors, prompted a group of physicians and scientists, trained primarily in Europe, to begin teaching students in their homes. They included John Beale Davidge, James Cocke, and James Shaw.
In 1807, with financial support from colleagues, Davidge built an anatomical theater behind his Saratoga Street home. The classes were popular with students but short lived: a mob demolished the structure to protest the use of cadavers during anatomy lectures. Within a month of the incident, the state legislature approved a bill creating the College of Medicine of Maryland. Its independent board of regents was charged with educating Maryland’s physicians, and the members elected Dr. Davidge dean of the faculty.
Fundraising for the college came primarily from the faculty, and a parcel of land was purchased “far out in the country” in view of the Patapsco River. The College Building on Lombard Street was eventually renamed Davidge Hall in honor of the first dean. The building has been used continuously for medical education longer than any other in the Northern Hemisphere and is a designated National Historic Landmark.
In those early years, clinical instruction was primarily at the bedside of patients at the Baltimore Almshouse, a workhouse and infirmary, now the location of Maryland General Hospital. The first class of five students graduated in 1810. Two years later, the school was rechartered as the University of Maryland, the first university created on the foundation of a private medical college. Today, it is known as the public University System of Maryland.
As the decades accumulated, so did the milestones. In 1823, the school was the first in the nation to build a hospital for resident training, where the University of Maryland Medical Center is now located. Other national “firsts” include a preventive medicine course, a curriculum requiring anatomical dissection, teaching women’s diseases and obstetrics as separate subjects, and a clinic for children.
Today, the School of Medicine has 2,600 faculty and 1,350 full-time staff. More than 1,200 students will become physicians, biomedical researchers, physical therapists, geneticists, and public health specialists. Current research awards exceed $340 million, and the school is ranked seventh among the 76 public medical schools and 19th among all medical schools in the United States in total research funding, with $164 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health. The school’s economic impact in Maryland is significant: $22 in revenue is generated for every $1 of general state support, an impact that will grow to nearly $2 billion by fiscal year 2009–2010.
For more information, please visit (http://medschool.umaryland.edu).
E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA
Vice President for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland
Dean, and John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers
Distinguished Professor, University of Maryland School of Medicine