History of Pitt Medicine
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Chartered in 1886 as the Western Pennsylvania Medical College, a free-standing school formed by local physicians, Pitt's School of Medicine sought university affiliation even in its early years of operation. In 1891, the school became affiliated with the Western University of Pennsylvania (as Pitt was then named) and, two decades later, was integrated into the newly designated University of Pittsburgh. Abraham Flexner, a renowned educator, published his first report, Medical Education in the U.S. and Canada, in 1910 after he had visited 155 medical schools, including the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The Flexner Report, in effect, removed medical education from the apprenticeship era and laid the foundations for the integrated academic basic science and clinical curricula of today. In this first report, Flexner made the following comments relative to Pitt's medical school:
"Since the present management took hold last fall, the admission of students has been more carefully supervised, the building has been put in excellent condition. …Whole-time instructors of modern training and ideals have been secured. …A new building is in the process of erection."
Flexner went on to cite the school as an example of what could be accomplished through sound university management.
For the next four decades, the school continued to evolve. Most of the clinical teaching was provided by volunteer and part-time faculty members. The number of full-time faculty in the preclinical area expanded as teaching demands increased, and a more sophisticated curriculum was instituted.
At the end of World War II, active planning for a major change was initiated with the encouragement and assistance of the Mellons, a prominent Pittsburgh family. The University accepted the University Health Center concept and, in 1953, appointed the first vice chancellor of the schools of the health professions. Plans were made to house the Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy in a new building contiguous to the principal teaching hospitals and the Graduate School of Public Health. Under these plans, the medical school would engage a full-time teaching faculty for all departments.
To generate the necessary capital, the University planned a fund raising drive to create an endowment. A handsome beginning was made when, by mid-December 1953, $15 million was assured by grants of $5 million each from the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, and the Sarah Mellon Scaife Foundation.
Scaife Hall, the school's current home, was completed in 1956, and vigorous recruitment of additional full-time faculty began. With increased facilities and faculty, Pitt's medical school began to be recognized as a major center for research in a number of areas. In turn, the school's faculty attracted appreciable support for research and training from the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies. Moreover, the school became assured of financial support for medical education when, in 1967, Pitt became state related as part of the higher education system of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Today, in virtually every way, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is living up to its potential for greatness. Medical education—the heart of the school’s mission—is a continuous process of refining the curriculum by evaluating what students must know about medicine in the 21st century and then implementing the most effective ways for them to learn it. At the same time, the school ranks among the nation’s leading academic centers of basic and applied research, with the University being continuously counted among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1997 and steadily climbing within this enviable echelon ever since. School of Medicine investigators are probing deeper and deeper into the complexities of human biology, finding new ways to harness the power of medicine and guiding the progress of biomedical research in promising directions, from gene regulation and protein conformation to drug and vaccine development, so as to detect, control, eradicate, and prevent diseases, and ultimately improve the human condition. To achieve this goal, the School of Medicine uses every available means to produce well-informed, knowledgeable, skilled, and compassionate clinicians—not simply so Pitt students might become good doctors, but that they might become the very best.