History of the School of Medicine

Woman at microscope

Barbara McClintock begins a five-year stint as an assistant professor at MU. She would go on to become a member of the National Academy of Sciences and was the 1983 Nobel Laureate in Medicine for her discovery of mobile genetic elements.Courtesy of the Barbara McClintock Papers, American Philosophical Society.

The University of Missouri School of Medicine was the first publicly supported medical school west of the Mississippi River. It was organized as a two-year school in 1872. Joseph Norwood, M.D., professor of natural science and philosophy, was the first dean.

Progress was slow until 1890, when Richard Jesse was appointed university president. The school was housed in an old frame building on the northwest corner of campus. Equipment was inadequate and out of date. The program was in danger of being discontinued. Fortunately, Jesse led the school to new heights due to nationwide advances in modernizing medical education. In addition, he reorganized the academic structure and raised financial support for new facilities.

W.L. Parker established an endowment that supplemented the cost of building the Parker Memorial Hospital. In 1957, the school was transformed into a four-year program. As a result, the Medical Center was constructed in 1960. The name was later changed to University Hospitals and Clinics.

Today, the MU School of Medicine’s more than 680 faculty physicians and scientists educate more than 1,000 medical students, residents, fellows and others seeking advanced degrees, as well as more than 1,000 undergraduate students, each semester. In the past two years, the school has opened a clinical campus in Springfield, Missouri, and a new medical education building, the Patient-Centered Care Learning Center, in Columbia. The Springfield clinical campus facilitated the school’s growth as it increased enrollment from 96 first-year students during the 2015-2016 year to the target enrollment of 128 first-year students in the 2017-2018 school year. The school’s class expansion and Springfield clinical campus project are a public-private partnership with CoxHealth and Mercy health systems in Springfield. 

More Missouri physicians receive their medical degrees from MU than from any other university. Graduates of the MU School of Medicine consistently score higher than the national average on the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), and the graduating class of 2016 had a 100-percent match rate. The school uses a patient-based learning style, which emphasizes self-directed learning and early clinical experiences. Medical school graduates are trained, evaluated and expected to be competent in their ability to deliver patient-centered care, including their capability to communicate with the patient, family members and colleagues working as part of an interdisciplinary team.