History

In 1891, responding to a national concern for improving doctors’ training, the Washington University administration established a medical department. In 1909, Robert Brookings, a successful businessman turned philanthropist, set about transforming the department into a modern medical school with full-time faculty, adequate endowment, modern laboratories and associated teaching hospitals.

Brookings’ dream of modern excellence centered on creating an outstanding faculty for teaching, research and patient care. Among the first four department heads recruited in 1910 was Joseph Erlanger, who went on to win the 1944 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

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In 1919, Evarts Graham was appointed the first full-time head of surgery. Fourteen years later, he performed the first successful lung removal. In 1910, George Dock established a tradition of distinguished clinical research in the Department of Medicine. Carl and Gerty Cori arrived at the School of Medicine in 1931 to join the Department of Pharmacology. In 1947, they won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for research on the catalytic conversion of glycogen. Six other Nobelists received training under their auspices.

Women first gained admission to the student body in 1918; today, they make up half of each incoming class. African-American graduates of the medical school now number more than 300. Scholarship support for all students, including special fellowships for those entering the Medical Scientist Training Program, is a high priority.

The transmission of excellence from one generation to the next is a hallmark of this school. Dean Robert Moore’s 1951 comment remains true today: “An institution is only as great as the individual men and women who compose it.”