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Medical College of Wisconsin

Teaching another generation of doctors

Dec. 2, 2009
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Flawed as 21st-century medicine might be, you’ll thank Asclepius for it when you peruse the annals of America’s early medical schools, like the nation’s first, at the College of Philadelphia, established in 1765. Sepia-toned images reveal dubious hygienic protocols, like doctors performing surgery in unsterilized rooms without the protective barriers of masks or gloves.

When the Wisconsin College of Physicians and Surgeons was founded in 1893, and the Milwaukee Medical College in the late-1890s, new medical students were armed with a valuable piece of information: Only two decades earlier Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch established the germ theory of disease, a cornerstone of modern medicine which proposes that microorganisms are the cause of many diseases.

Marquette University took control of the Milwaukee Medical College in 1907, which led to the Marquette University Department of Medicine/Milwaukee Medical College. Because of growing concerns regarding a lack of standardization among medical schools, the Association of American Medical Colleges commissioned a review of all U.S. medical schools in 1910. The resulting report inspired medical schools across the country to reorganize in order to improve the quality of the education they offered.

Marquette responded by acquiring the Wisconsin College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1913 and merging it with its Department of Medicine/Milwaukee Medical College, creating a brand-new institution: the Marquette University School of Medicine. Most of the faculty consisted of community physicians who volunteered to teach the medical school’s classes, and partnerships were forged with most of Milwaukee’s hospitals so they could become clinical training sites for med students.

In 1967, Marquette University announced that mounting debts would force it to sever its bonds to the medical school. No longer connected to any academic institution, the medical school was set adrift, without an endowment, a revenue stream, property or facilities. To keep the doors open, attorney Louis Quarles raised $1 million over a weekend. A new board composed mainly of business leaders on the Greater Milwaukee Committee took the reins. Milwaukee County Executive John Doyne and Edmund Fitzgerald, chairman of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., appointed a task force headed by local industrialist Joseph Heil Sr. to study the need and potential for an academic medical center in Milwaukee.

The Heil Commission Report called for major public and private financing and support for a comprehensive regional medical center with the medical school as its nucleus. It was at this point that the medical school’s board of directors determined that the school’s name needed to be changed to reflect its statewide services and ties to all of the citizens of Wisconsin. In 1970, the medical school was renamed the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW).

When the Medical College moved to new facilities on the campus of the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in 1978, it jump-started a period of phenomenal growth that would ultimately lead to its identity as a major academic medical center. Today, on-campus facilities include Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, the BloodCenter of Wisconsin’s research institute, the Eye Institute, Curative Rehabilitation Services, the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex, the Medical College Cancer Center and the Health Research Center, among others.

From humble origins in 1893, the Medical College of Wisconsin has evolved to become a national leader in the education of physicians and scientists.


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