Converting a medical school to a wartime basis was no easy task. Faculty members departed for active service, improvements to the curriculum and facilities were postponed, and enrollment was down considerably. These situations all exacted a great toll on medical education in the state but the administration made every attempt to mobilize medicine for war efforts. At the conclusions of the wars, the return of medical education to normal posed even more challenges yet the medical school greeted the next decade with full restoration to the programs centered on teaching and patient care.
Before 1911, the Medical Department had no affiliation as a state institution. On July 5th of that year, the state adopted it as the University of Arkansas Medical Department. This event did change the state of survival as the preoccupation and involvement in World War I diverted attention from the needs of a medical education. The brewing war, combined with the AMA Council on Medical Education’s admissions and academic standards, caused a drastic reduction in enrollment and cast doubt on the ability of the faculty to provide quality education during this era.
When Dean Lenow resigned that same year, Morgan Smith became dean and set out to improve the Medical Department during wartime, raise the morale and improve the efficiency of the faculty. World War I also delayed the development of the state-authorized charity hospital that Dean Smith proposed for clinical instruction. With a setback in a solution for the school’s clinical problems, some 19 of the 41 clinical faculty members were active in the military.
Like enrollment, the number of students who actually graduated decreased dramatically after 1912 when 52 received diplomas; 32 graduated in 1913, 19 in 1915; 15 in 1917 and just seven in 1919. During the spring of 1917, the senior class took a series of lectures on medical surgery and hygiene and were then admitted to the Medical Reserve Corps. The following term all 21 seniors pledged to join the Army medical service upon graduation.
By late 1918, the condition of the school had deteriorated and its future was in question. Enrollment had plummeted to 46 students, of whom only seven were freshmen. The ranks of the faculty had depleted because of military inductions and all efforts to improve the curriculum and clinical facilities were put on hold.
As the war came to an end, Dean Smith discontinued the education of third and fourth-year students and for the next three years, operated the school as a two-year institution only that did not come with the public’s support. In 1922, the Medical Department was reinstated and achieved full accreditation for its entire educational program. Dean Smith resigned that same year, effectively preserving the school for its future during 15 of the most crucial years.
And so the years of leading up to World War II were an equal challenge as the school struggled for financial resources, a solution to the shortage of qualified physicians in rural areas and working to improve clinical facilities. World War II was certainly an unsettling period where the thought of how the School of Medicine could best contribute to the needs of the troops and domestic mobilization efforts was in constant consideration.
Before Pearl Harbor, all first and second year students were deferred from the draft as long as they maintained a satisfactory academic standing. On the other hand, junior and seniors were expected to apply for officer’s commissions in either the Medical Administrative Corps of the Army or in the Navy Reserve. If they did not apply, they were subject to the draft. If they accepted a commission, they would not be called to active duty until completion of their education and a 12-month internship. Hence, 87 percent of juniors and seniors as well as freshmen and sophomores, applied for and received reserve officer commissions once the war began. The institution implemented an accelerated program of medical education and established active Army and Navy units on campus. The accelerated program was a year-round operation, with one nine-month academic session followed immediately by another. No summer vacations meant students completed the normal four years in three calendar years. The pressing need for physicians justified the year-round operation and accommodated new government programs to supply doctors for the armed services. Most students wore military uniforms and attended school on a 12-month schedule.
Also during this time, the AMA requested each medical school to create a list of faculty who were essential to the education programs and who should be deferred from induction into the armed services. The “essentials list” would be expected to continue preparing doctors to care for servicemen. The School of Medicine’s list contained all full-time preclinical faculty and 25 of 90 volunteer and part-time clinical faculty. During the academic year of 1942-1943, more than one-third of the school’s part-time faculty was on active duty in the armed services.
In addition to the accelerated schedule and the organization of army units, the School of Medicine made other notable contributions to the war effort. One of the most significant was the blood bank program established in 1941 to service the entire state within two years. A mobile unit was dispatched to cooperating communities were blood was collected from donors. The blood was converted to plasma at the medical school and half was returned to the community and the other half was stored for emergencies.