In the United States the rise of professional medical schools began in the mid-nineteenth century. Training and certification of doctors developed slowly, however, and by the end of the Civil War numerous bona fide medical schools existed, all east of the Mississippi River. At the same time, however, medical quacks abounded. The worst aspect of that bad situation was an abundance of "diploma mills." These were fly-by-night concerns that sold medical diplomas without providing any training at all. Even worse, there were thousands of "proprietary" medical schools, actually commercial, for-profit operations, that provided a minimum of easy, nonacademic courses for money. Slowly, the states passed laws establishing university-based medical schools and requiring the examination and licensing of medical personnel.
Like other locations in the late nineteenth century, Oklahoma and Indian territories desperately needed qualified doctors and dentists, and a small number of them did come here. In addition, however, hundreds of medical quacks—diploma-mill doctors and dentists—preyed on the populations of the Twin Territories. For instance, a mill called Twentieth Century Physio-Medical College operated in Guthrie in 1900–1904, held no classes, but issued diplomas and was sued by the territorial attorney general. Before 1900 Oklahoma had no legal mechanism for evaluating the qualifications of doctors, dentists, or pharmacists.
The Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory medical societies (established in 1881 and 1893, respectively) vigorously campaigned for testing and licensing, and by the time of statehood accomplished their goal. A federal law regulated medical practice in Indian Territory (the Indian Nations) from 1903, and numerous quacks were put out of business. For example, in 1904 a Dr. Burfield, of Byars, was indicted and convicted of practicing medicine without a valid license from the Chickasaw Nation. The Oklahoma Territory Board of Health, which granted the certificates for practice, enforced similar measures for doctors and dentists before statehood.
The medical societies' campaign included a movement for establishing a state-supported medical school and other certification programs. In the United States by 1906, 106 medical schools operated. Most were substandard or simply phony. In 1907 the American Medical Association's Council on Medical Education rated eighty-two of these as Class A, acceptable. In Oklahoma, although Oklahoma City physicians planned several proprietary colleges just after the turn of the century, only one ever materialized. It was called Southwest Postgraduate Medical College and operated in Oklahoma City from 1911 to circa 1915. Eventually, however, significant and lasting programs emerged to prepare students for a certification or for a license in general practice or in a specialty.
The University of Oklahoma (OU) developed the state's first publicly supported professional program. Its Pharmacy Department, created in 1893 as a two-year regimen, graduated its first students in 1896. Formally established as a School of Pharmacy in 1899, with Edwin C. DeBarr as dean, it continued as a two-year program. In 1907 the School of Pharmacy first offered a bachelor's degree. By 2000 the Department of Graduate Pharmaceutical Sciences also offered, in addition to a five-year bachelor's degree, courses toward master of science and doctor of philosophy degrees through two campuses, the Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City and the Schusterman Center in Tulsa.
From 1898 OU offered two years of courses in the Premedical Department until the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine opened in Norman in 1900. Lawrence N. Upjohn directed the program in its first few years. By 1907 the school employed ten faculty; all served as professors in the science department. In 1910 the OU medical school merged with Epworth University College of Medicine, a similar facility that had been opened in 1904 (chartered in 1907) in Oklahoma City. Epworth had also operated pharmacy and dental schools. After the merger, Robert F. Williams became dean. The OU School of Medicine became a four-year program, and its clinical training regimen relocated to Oklahoma City where medical students worked at various hospitals. The program was rated a Class A medical school in 1918 and its main teaching facility, University Hospital, was completed in 1919. A School of Medicine Building was completed in 1928, anchoring the Oklahoma Medical Center (now Health Sciences Center) near the Capitol Complex on Lincoln Boulevard. By 2000 the College of Medicine curriculum offered an undergraduate premedical degree and a four-year doctor of medicine (M.D.) degree.
A dentistry program at the University of Oklahoma first existed as an oral surgery program, established as courses within the Department of Surgery in 1923. Francis Reichmann was the first clinician and later became a professor. The Oral Surgery Residency Program was one of the first of its kind to be formed west of the Mississippi River. In 1969 the university established a College of Dentistry, with William Brown the first dean. The program offered both dental hygiene (the final two years of a regimen leading to a bachelor of science in dental hygiene) and clinical dentistry, with the doctor of dental surgery degree (D.D.S.) awarded at the end of a four-year graduate program. The programs included orthodontics, general dentistry, and periodontics as well as the oral and maxillofacial surgery specialty.
The University of Oklahoma has also provided undergraduate and graduate medical education through colleges of allied health, nursing, and public health. In Oklahoma City, affiliated institutions include University, Presbyterian, and Children's hospitals, Veterans' Affairs Medical Center, numerous clinical facilities, the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, the Dean A. McGee Eye Institute, and the Stanton L. Young Biomedical Research Center. The OU College of Medicine added the Tulsa Medical College as a budget extension of the Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City in the mid-1970s.
Other medical education programs have functioned in Oklahoma. In 1978 Oral Roberts University in Tulsa opened a medical college that lasted through the 1989 academic year. The university constructed the 777-bed City of Faith Hospital in 1982 in part to provide clinical training to its student doctors and nurses. In 1972 the Oklahoma College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery was created by the state legislature as a free-standing medical school in Tulsa. One of only eight in the nation, the facility opened in 1975 and was absorbed by Oklahoma State University in 1988. In addition, at the end of the twentieth century most state-supported universities and colleges offered nursing degrees, Southwestern Oklahoma State University maintained a pharmacy degree program, and Oral Roberts University continued to offer a nursing degree.
William E. Brown, "Dental Service, University Hospital, 1969–1987 [manuscript]," Vertical File, Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City.
William E. Brown, "Progress Report on the School of Dentistry," The Journal [Oklahoma Dental Association] 60 (April 1970).
Dianna Everett, History of the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Residency in Oklahoma (Oklahoma City: University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry, 2004).
Mark R. Everett and Alice A. Everett, Medical Education in Oklahoma, 2 vols. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980).
Mark A. Everett and Howard D. Everett, Medical Education in Oklahoma, Vol. 3 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000).
Robert C. Hardy, Hero: An Oral History of the Oklahoma Health Center (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Health Sciences Foundation, 1985).
Leo Glenn Tate, Centennial: A History of the University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy, 1893–1993 (Oklahoma City: College of Pharmacy, 1993).
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, “Medical Education,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=ME004.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.