The evolution of Michigan Medicine

March 16, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources,

Today, Michigan Medicine is a world-class health care leader, carrying out more than 2 million patient care visits, 100,000 emergency/urgent care visits, 54,000 surgical cases and 48,000 hospital discharges per year. The organization also educates more than 3,000 learners annually and its researchers follow thousands of lines of scientific inquiry.

When it was founded in 1848, however, Michigan Medicine began with more modest roots.

While residents of the U.S. received word of a gold rush in California, the Mexican-American War came to an end and construction began on the Washington Monument, in Ann Arbor, the fledgling University of Michigan was still stretching its legs as an institution of higher education. It was about to take a big step forward into the world of medicine.

The board of regents accepted a report by Dr. Zina Pitcher on the need for a Department of Medicine, and appropriated $3,000 for the establishment of a “laboratory” — a precursor to the U-M Medical School. They appointed three people to lead the new department. Over the next 170 years, the medical campus and its impact on health care would grow exponentially.

As the university celebrates its bicentennial, here are highlights of how Michigan Medicine has evolved over the years.

In 1850, the Medical School — made up of five inaugural faculty members — opened its doors to more than 100 students and charged them $5 a year for two years of education. Among the notable early alumni were U-M’s first female graduate, Amanda Sanford (Class of 1871) and African-American graduate, William Henry Fitzbutler (Class of 1872).

By 1869, U-M opened the first university-owned medical facility in the U.S., a 20-bed hospital located in the residence of a former professor.

Education continued to grow as U-M — a pioneer in curriculum reform throughout its history — in 1880 adopted a three-year medical school curriculum and also introduced laboratory instruction and assigned grades for the first time. A fourth year was added in 1890.

The university opened a new hospital on Catherine Street in 1891, near the current A. Alfred Taubman Health Sciences Library. By 1900, the aptly named Catherine Street Hospital was the largest teaching hospital in the country. Over time, it grew to become part of a complex of 20 buildings housing 400 beds.

With a teaching hospital in place, in 1899 the medical school introduced the clinical clerkship. That helped the school assume a lofty leadership position in academic medicine. In 1910, a report by Abraham Flexner sharply criticized most American medical schools — but singled a few out for praise, including U-M.

Secure in its direction, U-M constructed additional buildings to stretch its medical campus footprint. The expansion included the 700-bed University Hospital (“Old Main”) that opened in 1925 on the current site of the Frankel Cardiovascular Center, which in 1929 became the site of the world’s first lung removal. And in 1968, U-M physicians performed the first heart transplant in the state.

Michigan Medicine unveiled the cornerstone of the current medical campus in 1986 when the new 11-story, 550-bed University Hospital opened.

In keeping with its commitment to education, the Medical School in 2003 implemented a revised curriculum that integrated biomedical, clinical and psychosocial sciences with clinical skills and professionalism. Today, the school once again is transforming how it educates students, with a revitalized focus on raising leaders and change agents.

Research received a boost in 2006 with the opening of the A. Alfred Taubman Biomedical Science Research Building — or BSRB — and it was further stimulated in 2009 when U-M purchased the former Pfizer campus and named it the North Campus Research Complex. Nearing capacity in 2017, today it is a vibrant hub for staff and scientists from Michigan Medicine and other areas of the university.

While the medical campus continues to grow and evolve — including the opening of the C.S. Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s hospitals in 2011 — so, too, does Michigan Medicine’s reach statewide. In 2013, officials signed a master affiliation agreement with Trinity Health. The next year, U-M joined forces with Mid-Michigan Health and also opened a new outpatient center in Northville. In 2016, U-M and Metro Health established an affiliation to provide care to the west side of the state.

In January, the organization received a new name that better consolidates the academic medical center under one banner. What started with three initial leaders in 1848 transformed into the organization’s three-part mission of today, as the university’s education, research and clinical care initiatives are banded together as Michigan Medicine.

Want to learn more about university and Michigan Medicine history? Check out upcoming bicentennial events on campus! 

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