A medical education in Arkansas pervaded the minds of the eight founders of what would become the state’s only Medical Department. For their vision was simple: a traditional school building filled with professors preparing students for their careers as physicians. When the Medical Department first opened, classes were conducted five days each week and students were able to observe patients treated in a dispensary located in a hardware store. The initial academic session extended for just five months and conferred the first degree at commencement on March 2, 1880 to Tom M. Pinson, M.D. A celebration ensued for the completion of the first academic year of the AIU Medical Department. The faculty remained constant during those early years at around 16.
Tuition and fees were also modest, amounting to no more than $63 for entering students and $83 for graduating students. Admission requirements were kept minimal – in fact, there weren’t any until 1885. To keep with national trends, the school required students to be at least 18 years old, to present a certificate of good moral character, to either possess a high school or college diploma, hold a first grade teacher’s certificate or pass an examination in basic subjects. Over the years, instruction consisted of practical work in the dissecting rooms and chemical and physiological libraries, lectures, text books, final exams and daily quizzes. Clinical learning facilities and were improved in every decade as students began four years of study – the first two years consisting of pre-clinical course work centered around laboratory exercises followed by the last two years, or clinical years, devoted to applied subject matter, largely spending their days rotating in clinics, and Little Rock’s private and public hospitals.
This progressive curriculum that formed was also significant in the push to meet the needs of the state’s shortage of physicians. Admission of larger classes was deemed key – a trend that continued for several years and is still implemented today.
In 1956, the University of Arkansas School of Medicine had a hospital worthy of a modern educational institution. The new hospital and educational building set further into motion a program to handle the state’s physician shortage. It was a time that departments grew furiously on the climb toward national recognition in academic medicine.
The remarkable growth has only just begun. The COM has more than 1,000 full and part-time faculty, more than 600 residents, and more than 700 medical students and graduate degree students.
Today’s medical school was envisioned in the same way by eight proprietors some 130 years ago.
The emerging physicians reflect the school’s values from what began in 1879 in a remodeled hotel. Despite all obstacles, the school established a tradition of excellence in education that has sustained since its inception.