by Patty Gelb
This year marks an important milestone in the history of medical education in Northwest Ohio. It is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Medical College of Ohio (MCO), now known as the University of Toledo’s Health Science Campus.
The University commemorated this important occasion with a celebration at the Radisson Hotel on the Health Science Campus on May 31. This event – which sold out two weeks in advance – was a touching tribute to the pioneers who believed in the mission of building a medical college in Toledo.
Dr. William McMillen, a former UT provost and the chairman of the 50th Anniversary Planning Committee, along with a committee of 28 dedicated members worked tirelessly to pull together the history and organize events celebrating the importance of this event.
“Fifty years contains a lot of history so the anniversary committee worked hard to highlight stories and photos that symbolized and honored the dedicated students, faculty members, and staff,” said Dr. McMillen.
The event was sponsored by Block Communications, Medical Mutual and ProMedica, with a special gift from Dr. and Mrs. Peter White. Allan J. Block, chair of Block Communications and John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and sons of the late Paul Block, Jr., were honorary co-chairmen and speakers at the event.
“The anniversary dinner on May 31 at the Radisson on the UT Health Science Campus was a great success. It was like a giant family reunion,” said Dr. McMillen. “People couldn’t stop reminiscing and laughing.”
Dr. Mary R. Smith, UT professor of medicine and pathology gave the keynote address entitled “Remembering the Medical College of Ohio.” Dr. Smith and her husband, Dr. Hollis Merrick, came to Toledo to interview for positions with MCO in the late 1970’s when there were only a few buildings on the campus and a bulldozed field where the hospital would eventually stand.
Over 350 people were in attendance enjoying the historical displays, the camaraderie and reminiscing the important milestone that they were celebrating. Six members of the first medical graduating class from 1972 attended the event. Thirty-two students out of 417 applicants made up that first class that began their studies in 1969.
To put things in perspective, the College of Medicine and Life Sciences received more than 4,200 med school applications in 2013, with a class size of 175.
Dr. Robert Page, the School of Medicine’s first dean, wrote a memoir entitled “The Early that Days” which is part of the book “A Community of Scholars: Recollections of the Early Years.” In it he stated, “I felt a great feeling of accomplishment at both ends of the first class’s matriculation. At the beginning, I was pleased with our selection of students, and at graduation, I was proud of their accomplishments. I will carry those sentiments with me always.”
The idea for a medical college in Toledo was born out of a growing crisis in Ohio. By the end of the 1950’s, there was an appalling shortage of medical professionals to treat the growing population. Studies showed that Ohio would have to graduate 402 physicians in 1960 to maintain the ratio of needed medical professionals to the general population. Although there were three highly respected medical colleges in Ohio at that time; Case Western, Ohio State and the University of Cincinnati, only 290 physicians were targeted to graduate that year. The Interim Commission on Education Beyond High School described the situation as “Ohio’s inability to take care of the education of its own citizens” and stated that immediate action was required.
Cleveland, Akron, Dayton, Toledo and Kent State University all asked for a new state-supported medical school to be built in their region. The City of Toledo had been working since 1954 to establish a medical school and it was known that adequate land was available to construct the facilities necessary to support the academic programs.
Prominent citizens of the community were behind Toledo’s bid to become the next location for a medical school in Ohio. Paul Block, Jr., co-publisher of The Blade and an organic chemist was one of the strongest advocates for this mission.
In 1960, The Blade reported on a study conducted by Dr. Charles Letourneau, a hospital consultant who was studying plans for expansion at St. Vincent Hospital. Letourneau expressed to the Mayor of Toledo, Michael Damas, that a city the size of Toledo should have a medical school.
With Block, Jr., leading the charge, Governor James A. Rhodes called a special session of the Ohio General Assembly in 1964 to consider a bill to create a medical school in Toledo. The bill was approved unanimously by the Ohio House in November of that year and the Ohio Senate immediately followed with its uncontested support.
Governor Rhodes signed the legislation one month later to create the Toledo State College of Medicine. The school was renamed the Medical College of Ohio at Toledo (MCOT) in 1967 and later the “at Toledo” was removed to shorten the name to The Medical College of Ohio (MCO). When it was established, MCO was the fourth medical school in Ohio and the 100th in the entire United States. Originally, MCO was separate from The University of Toledo. At the time of MCO’s inception, UT was a municipal institution and there were no plans to convert it into a state school.
The University of Toledo and the Medical University of Ohio merged on July 1, 2006, to form the third-largest public university in the state by operating budget. House Bill 478 was signed on March 31, 2006, by Governor Bob Taft, creating a university that is now built around academic colleges and professional programs matched only by a handful of public universities nationwide, including Ohio State University and the University of Michigan.
From a time 50 years ago where there were not enough medical professionals being trained to care for the populace of Ohio, the University of Toledo now has a world-class campus devoted to the health sciences with a mission to improve the human condition by providing patient-centered, university-quality care.
The 50th anniversary celebration committee was formed and held its first meeting in August, 2013. The focus was to plan a kick-off celebration in November and the main anniversary celebration in May. The committee also worked to capture as much of the history of MCO’s beginnings as possible, digging through MCO archives and providing personal materials for displays at both events. Due to their work, we are fortunate to have many opportunities to learn more about this momentous historical event in the state of Ohio.
An hour-long feature was produced by WGTE-TV containing interviews, historic images and the full history of the building and early beginnings of the school. A portion of “Toledo Stories, MCO: A History of Healing and Teaching” was played for attendees of the anniversary celebration and it then aired on WGTE in June. You can watch this fascinating story on WGTE’s website by clicking here.
A section of The University of Toledo Foundation’s website is dedicated to the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of MCO.
You can watch video interviews of people who participated in the creation of MCO. The videos are a compilation of interview segments from board members, faculty and staff to alumni and community members. Interviews are casual in nature, capturing “unofficial” history, funny stories, personal experiences, challenges and victories that would not normally be found in a book. To view the videos, click here to be directed to the video history page.
In 2011, the book “A Community of Scholars: Recollections of the Early Years of the Medical College of Ohio” was published. For more information about or to purchase the book, please visit The University of Toledo Press website.
On the MCO history website there is a photo gallery section that allows you to scroll through hundreds of pictures of the creation and early years of MCO. To view all of the photos from the MCO 50th celebration on The University of Toledo Facebook page, click here.
You can help us capture the history of MCO with the “Your MCO Story” section of the website. On this page you can read through other submissions people have written of their time at MCO. You also have the opportunity to share your stories. We hope you join us in celebrating this incredible milestone in the medical history of Northwest Ohio by visiting the website and taking the time to share your MCO story.