In just a little over two weeks, on July 1, the University of Mississippi Medical Center will begin its 60th year of operation in Jackson.
I was reminded of that anniversary this week because I'm in Chicago, at a meeting of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the group that accredits all U.S. and Canadian medical schools. We have three new members, and one of them has been assigned to me as a mentee.
Dr. Warren Newton is a family physician who's on the faculty of the University of North Carolina. As it turns out, he's also the son of Dr. Michael Newton, who was the founding chair of obstetrics and gynecology at UMMC.
Warren was born and lived in Jackson until he was 7, when his father left the faculty to become executive director of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
In photos from that period, Michael Newton looks like he must be in his 30s. That was typical of newly formed medical schools. The founding chairs were often young, ambitious faculty who left junior positions at better-established medical schools for a faster track to leadership. Typically, they were risk-takers and forward-thinkers. They enjoyed the sense that that they were building something new, from the ground up, which, in our case, they were.
I like to think that this pioneering spirit, a willingness to try something new, to innovate, is part of our DNA.
Establishing a new, four-year medical school and a teaching hospital in Jackson - to replace the two-year school in Oxford - was by no means a pre-ordained outcome when it was first considered in the legislature in the early 1940s. Powerful interests preferred other approaches to address a critical shortage of physicians. Fierce debate and political machinations consumed the decade of the 40s.
In the end, the legislation that established UMMC in Jackson passed in 1950. Construction started on the grounds of the old state asylum on the northeastern edge of the city. UMMC opened July 1, 1955. And we were off.
Sixty years. In a sense it doesn't seem that long, does it? Three generations. Not even a single lifetime. But, my stars, look at all that's happened in those 60 years!
We've added five more schools that now produce nearly a thousand graduates a year. We've developed some of the world's most respected research programs. We've provided compassionate and, in many cases, life-saving medical care to countless Mississippians.
When I think about all that's been accomplished, I can't help but think of all the gifted people who made it possible. The steadfast leaders who dealt with challenge after challenge: Billy Guyton, David Pancratz, Norman Nelson, Christine Oglevee and others. The brilliance of Arthur Guyton, James Hardy, Julius Cruse and others. The courage of conscience embodied by Blair Batson, Aaron Shirley, Helen Barnes and others. The support of governors, legislators, and members of the Institutions of Higher Learning board, like Verner Holmes, who championed UMMC.
When I think about all that's been accomplished, I also can't help but think about all the work that's yet to be done. There are many academic medical centers in the United States - 141 by current count - but my experience on the LCME tells me this: Few, if any, states rely on their academic medical centers more, or need them more, than ours does. That should be a source of pride, but it should also spark a sense of responsibility.
Mississippi has great needs. I believe that UMMC is poised, like never before, to respond to those needs. We should answer this call with the same spirit of innovation, boldness and resilience exhibited by our founders. In a very real sense, they are the ones who got us here, and we are inheritors of their legacy.
Although we still have a few days before our 60th year begins, there's no more appropriate time of year to reflect on such things. We've just had our largest commencement ever. We are saying goodbye to students, residents and colleagues who are retiring. And we will soon be welcoming new learners and new faculty to our fold. It's all part of that great wheel that was set in motion just about 60 years ago by a very special group of people.
We'll celebrate their legacy in various ways in the coming months as we mark this important milestone on our journey to A Healthier Mississippi.