Michigan’s Medical History

In 1847 the Regents of the University of Michigan approved the creation of a Medical School, which opened its doors in 1850 to become the University’s first professional school.

The U-M Medical School has been a leader in cutting-edge medical education, basic and clinical research, and patient care since its founding.  It was the first major medical school in the nation to teach science-based medicine.  It was the first medical school in the United States to own and operate its own teaching hospital.  In1899, the U-M Medical School began requiring all students to complete clinical rotations, something it could do more easily than other medical schools because it ran its own teaching hospital.  It also doubled the length of its program, giving its students substantially more training.

The first woman graduate of the U-M Medical School, Amanda Sanford, received her degree in 1871.  Two years later, in 1873, William Henry Fitzbutler became the first African American to receive a medical degree from U-M. In 1880, José Celso Barbosa became the first Latino to obtain a U-M medical degree when he graduated as valedictorian of his class. He was also the first Puerto Rican to obtain a medical degree in the United States.  In 1896, the adoptive sisters Mary Stone (birth name: Shi Meiyu) and Ida Kahn (birth name: Kang Chen) became the first Asian graduates of the U-M Medical School.  After graduation, both returned to China and worked as medical missionaries.  Two decades later, Regent Levi Barbour was so impressed with the work of Stone and Kahn (and 1870 medical school graduate, Tomo Inouye) that he founded the Barbour Scholarship for Oriental Women, now known simply as the Barbour Scholarship.

The Center for the History of Medicine and its antecedent, the Historical Center for the Health Sciences, have actively participated in projects that foster recognition for and appreciation of Michigan’s medical leadership.  The Center’s oral history project memorializes the important work of emeritus University of Michigan Medical School faculty.  These oral histories can be accessed at the Bentley Historical Library.

Numerous books have been published about the University of Michigan Medical School, its faculty and graduates. A good reading list on the subject includes:

  • Horace W. Davenport, Not Just Any Medical School: The Science, Practice, and Teaching of Medicine at the University of Michigan, 1850–1941 (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1999) View the Digital edition
  • Horace W. Davenport, Doctor Dock: Teaching and Learning Medicine at the Turn of the Century (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987)
  • Horace W. Davenport, University of Michigan Surgeons, 1850–1970: Who They Were and What They Did (Ann Arbor, MI: Historical Center for the Health Sciences, 1993)
  • Horace W. Davenport, Victor Vaughan: Statesman and Scientist (Ann Arbor, MI: Historical Center for the Health Sciences, 1996)