New Orleans, located in a subtropical climate and with one of the busiest international ports in the world, was vulnerable to all types of virulent infectious diseases in 1834. Yellow fever, malaria, smallpox and cholera were rampant. When the Medical College of Louisiana published its prospectus that same year, key among its objectives was "to lead the advancement of science and the rational treatment of disease."
By 1845, the state legislature recognized the value of the institution and authorized a full-fledged university in New Orleans. The medical complex was quickly recognized as one of the largest medical schools in the country. By 1860, enrollment had increased to more than 400 students, positioning it as the fourth largest program for medical education in the nation.
With the onset of the Civil War and Union occupation of the city in 1861, medical students and doctors scattered across the South, many of them serving in the Confederate Army. This marked the first time in the school's history that the doors were closed. Classes resumed in 1865.
In 1882, Paul Tulane donated extensive real estate in New Orleans for the support of education. The Board of Administrators of the Tulane Educational Fund decided to support the University of Louisiana, and by 1883 the Legislature of Louisiana passed a bill creating the Tulane University of Louisiana, a private, nonsectarian university. As part of Tulane University, the medical school continued to thrive and expand, moving into the 20th century as the top ranking medical school in the South and one of the best in the nation.
Discovery and Translation
Tulane School of Medicine distinguished itself in discovery and translation as well as in education. In 1932, Dr. Michael E. DeBakey graduated from Tulane School of Medicine and began a distinguished career in cardiovascular surgery. As a medical student, he researched and designed the roller pump, which became an essential component of the heart-lung machine that lead to open-heart surgery. His other innovations include the development of Dacron artificial arteries in 1953, the first successful endarterectomy in 1953, the first successful coronary artery bypass in 1964, and the first successful implantation of a left ventricular assist device in 1966.
Other Tulane faculty members who made enduring advances in medicine over the last century are Dr. Robert Heath in psychopharmacology, Dr. George E. Burch in physiology, Dr. Andrew V. Schally in endocrinology, and Dr. Louis J. Ignarro in pharmacology, the latter two winning Nobel Prizes for their work at Tulane.
In late August 2005, with Tulane School of Medicine on the cusp of major programmatic expansion, the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States caused unbelievable destruction to the city of New Orleans, its people and institutions, including Tulane University. Hurricane Katrina devastated the lives of thousands of people and businesses in the city, leaving behind a multitude of challenges that will forever affect the city and its residents.
Tulane doctors stayed with their patients at Tulane Hospital, Charity Hospital, and the New Orleans VA hospital until forced to evacuate. Those doctors, students and residents would soon return to the city, establishing clinics in new locations and reestablishing access to both medical care and medical education.
In the aftermath of the storm, Tulane School of Medicine evacuated to Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, where medical students resumed their studies. Tulane medical school administrators coordinated the school's return to New Orleans, which began in November 2005 and accommodated the 98.5% of Tulane's medical students who remained with Tulane after Hurricane Katrina. Over the ensuing year, the dedicated and committed faculty reconstituted vigorous research and teaching programs as space became habitable.
In the years since Hurricane Katrina, Tulane School of Medicine has established itself as a vital component in the renewal of one of America's greatest cities. We train the most qualified students to be capable, compassionate physicians who will provide high quality primary or specialty care locally, nationally and globally.
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