From the Archives: How it came to be

Each month, our colleagues from the OHSU Historical Collections & Archives profile people and events significant to the history of the OHSU School of Medicine. But how did the school itself come about? High level milestones are outlined on the school history web page, but the details below provide additional, rich perspective. Enjoy.

Willamette University Medical Department studentsThe School of Medicine was established in 1887 as the University of Oregon Medical Department, on the grounds of Good Samaritan Hospital at NW Twenty-Third Avenue and Marshall Street. Requirements for admissions included only satisfactory knowledge of such subjects as reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography. The first school building was a modest, two-story wooden structure, a former grocery store that was moved to the edge of a cow pasture on the hospital grounds. Facilities consisted of a lecture room on the first floor and a dissection room on the second. Cadavers were hauled through a trap door in the floor by means of a block and tackle.

It was the second school of medicine established in the Pacific Northwest. Twenty years earlier, in 1867, the Willamette University Medical Department, a private institution, was organized in Salem. Before that time, people who desired an education in medicine worked with preceptors. Some went on to study at East Coast medical schools after a year; others began practices based on the knowledge gained during their apprenticeships.

Freshmen students University of Oregon Medical SchoolPortland replaced Salem as the center of the medical profession by the mid 1870s, and the city experienced an influx of academically trained physicians. As a result, the Willamette Medical Department relocated to Portland in 1878. In the spring of 1887, several Willamette faculty members suddenly resigned. Accounts of the dispute differ, with some pointing to issues regarding faculty reorganization and the appointment of a new chair of obstetrics. Among the dissenters were Simeon E. Josephi, M.D., and Kenneth A.J. Mackenzie, M.D., who worked quickly with other physicians to establish a school at the University of Oregon. In June the University of Oregon Medical Department opened and Josephi became the first dean. The name was changed to the University of Oregon Medical School in 1915. By the end of the nineteenth century, the school adopted a grading system and expanded the course of instruction from two to four years.

In 1912, Mackenzie succeeded Josephi as dean. The first significant change he directed was the merger with the Willamette University Medical Department. Willamette had returned to Salem in 1895 and, with the limited number of clinical facilities in the smaller city, had struggled to exist. At a University of Oregon Medical School faculty meeting in early 1913, the president of the university and the dean of Willamette's medical school proposed consolidation. With the merger, the University of Oregon Medical School became the only institution north of San Francisco and west of Denver to offer a full course of medical instruction.

Research graduate student working in labRealizing the medical school had outgrown its facilities in Northwest Portland and recognizing the need for larger laboratories and better equipment, Mackenzie envisioned a new medical campus situated away from the heart of the city, one that would evolve into a world-class health center. At the time, he also served as chief surgeon of the Oregon-Washington Railroad & Navigation Company. In 1914, he persuaded the company to donate twenty acres of land on Marquam Hill. The first building on the new campus was dedicated five years later.

Subsequent deans Richard B. Dillehunt, M.D., and David Baird, M.D., strengthened the school's role as a modern medical center. Baird recognized that rapid advances in medical education were quickly making many of the institution's facilities and academic programs obsolete. He believed the medical school needed full-time clinical faculty and its own teaching hospital. The medical school's national reputation soared as politicians Richard Neuberger and Mark O. Hatfield supplied the university with federal appropriations, and the National Institutes of Health increased funding for research programs, which in turn attracted new faculty. 

In 1974, the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center was formed as an independent institution under the direction of the Oregon State System of Higher Education. The Schools of Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing were brought together under a president to create this new center, the only academic health center in Oregon. In 2001, the name changed to Oregon Health & Science University with the addition of a biotechnology school.

Pictured (top to bottom):

Willamette Medical Department students, 1886; University of Oregon Medical School freshmen; a graduate student engaged in scientific discovery as part of the Ph.D. requirements