Dakota Datebook

UND Med School

Monday, December 5, 2005

North Dakota Public Radio would like to wish the University of North Dakota a special happy birthday! UND’s medical school is 100 years old this year.

Back in the planning stages, a university bulletin announced more than 50 young men and women were forced to leave the state in order to secure even the first year of medical training. Then, in 1905, a bulletin announced, “Beginning with the school year 1905-06, the University will offer the first two years of a regular four years’ course in medicine. It is expected that students who complete this course will be admitted to all reputable medical colleges and be given full credit for two years of work. The facilities of the University for offering the first two years of standard medical courses are unsurpassed.”

Melvin Brannon, a biology professor, organized the medical college and served as its first dean.

In 1906, students were informed, “An annual fee of $50.00 is charged. This is payable in installments of $25.00 at the beginning of the first and second semesters of the third and fourth years… [It is to be used] for incidental, library, laboratory and dissection expenses.”

In 1909, Alfred Dean became the medical school’s first graduate. By then, the AAMC had granted UND accreditation for its program. The budget was $6,500.

There were, at that time, only 552 doctors working in North Dakota – obviously UND was addressing a great need. In fact, by the time Melvin Brannon vacated his position as Dean in 1911, the college had answered the call quite admirably. The 1910 Flexner Report, which brought about profound reforms in medical education, heralded UND as one of only fourteen in the country requiring at least two years of pre-med training.

Solveig Gislason was the first woman to graduate from the school – she was in the class of 1914.

The following year, the school added a course in embalming. By 1918, the number of physicians practicing in the state had risen to 604. That was the year of the worldwide flu pandemic, and UND, like the rest of the state, was severely affected.

The year of 1932 was a pivotal one. Ralph Leigh, the school’s first OB/GYN teacher, pressed UND to open a medical center at the college and to construct new training facilities. He also recommended setting up training programs for students in hospitals across the state.

By 1936, the luster was wearing a bit thin, however. When the AAMC and AMA put the school on probation, Dean Harley French explained, “The faculty is small. The salaries are impossibly low from the point of view of retaining good men permanently, or of replacing men in the case of loss. Library and departmental budgets for supplies and equipment are manifestly too low.”
World War II put the school back on top, when the government paid UND to institute an Army Specialized Training Program. Alumnus Rodney Clark says, “It was a unique situation at UND during the war. Almost all the people in our class were military. Normally, a class would have all North Dakota guys. But these guys were from all over the country. We became a very close-knit class. There weren’t that many other men on campus. So we made our own fun.”

Since those early days, UND has expanded its medical program into a complete medical degree granting program. It has added myriad departments and research programs and has become one of the nation’s leading medical schools.

Now, there are some 1,5000 physicians working in North Dakota – nearly half graduated from UND.

Sources: UND Timeline. The Review: University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences, Vol. 20, #5. September 2005 p 4-11.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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