Medical Alumni Association

School of Medicine History (UPSOM)

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine History

In 1886, a group of Pittsburgh physicians founded the Western Pennsylvania Medical College in response to the increasing need for quality medical care and training in the burgeoning city.

The college graduated its first physicians in 1887. In the 1890s, the medical college became affiliated with the Western University of Pennsylvania, later renamed the University of Pittsburgh, and moved from Polish Hill to its new home in Pennsylvania Hall in Oakland in 1911.

In 1919, Dean Raleigh Russell Higgins, MD, initiated the creation of Pittsburgh’s first academic medical center: a University-based medical school with a group of specialty hospitals to provide unique educational opportunities. In 1921, Magee Hospital joined the University as a site for teaching obstetrics and medicine. In 1926, Children’s Hospital became the site for pediatrics, and by 1938 Eye and Ear Hospital and Presbyterian Hospital both had joined the University.

Following World War II, the school turned its focus to faculty development. Seeking full-time clinical faculty with interests in research, the school attracted aggressive young researchers such as Thaddeus S. Danowski, MD, an endocrinologist, and Jonas E. Salk, MD, a virologist. Local philanthropists were essential in raising $50 million to build and furnish the current home of the medical school, Alan Magee Scaife Hall, which opened in 1955. The Andrew W. Mellon, Sarah Mellon Scaife, and Richard King Mellon Foundations created a $15 million endowment for the school.

During his tenure as interim dean, Thomas Detre, MD, raised the national prominence of the school by creating the Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. Dean George M. Bernier Jr., MD, introduced the Physicians in Two Thousand (P.I.T.T.) curriculum—an innovative course of problem-based and patient-focused material. This program of study is nationally competitive in attracting top students and has resulted in graduate board scores well above the national average.

In November 1998, Arthur S. Levine, MD, was selected as the School of Medicine’s 14th dean and as senior vice chancellor for the health sciences. To continue the path of excellence, Levine’s priorities include developing and nurturing young physician-scientists, building scholarship resources to reduce medical student debt, and continuing support of basic science and translational research.

Additional Information

History Book