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Our History

In just over 50 years - within the lifetimes of many of its original architects - the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA has joined the ranks of the nation's elite medical schools.

During a period of revolutionary change in biomedical research and patient care, the school quickly moved to the forefront of academic medicine and discovery. It is now mentioned in the same breath with the small group of institutions known as the best in the world - many of which are at least twice UCLA's age.

The Beginning

Earl Warren - 30th CA Governor

Earl Warren
March 19, 1891 - July 9, 1974
30th Governor of California

At the end of World War II, a group of physicians began pushing hard the idea that the University of California should have a medical presence in Southern California. One of the leading proponents was Dr. Elmer Belt, a distinguished urologist who treated, among others, then-Governor Earl Warren. Legend has it that during the process of a rather unpleasant urological exam, Belt began telling Warren of the need for a medical school at UCLA. The governor interrupted him and said, "For God's sake, Elmer, get this examination finished. I'll be glad to support your medical school."

On October 19, 1945, the UC Board of Regents voted to establish a medical school as part of UCLA. The State Legislature unanimously passed a $7-million appropriation bill to fund the new school, and Governor Warren signed it into law on February 19, 1946.

Stafford L. Warren was appointed in 1947 as the school's first dean. Dr. Warren had served on the Manhattan Project while on leave as a professor at the University of Rochester Medical School in New York. His compelling personality, combined with experience that gave him knowledge of the inner workings of government, helped the school raise money and cut through bureaucratic red tape.

In choosing his core faculty, Warren looked initially to three former associates in Rochester. He appointed Andrew Dowdy as the first professor of radiology; John Lawrence as the first professor of medicine; and Charles Carpenter as the first professor of infectious disease. To round out the executive group that, including the dean, was called the Founding Five - Warren recruited 34-year-old William Longmire Jr. of Johns Hopkins, known as "the youngster with the most promise in the nation," to head up the surgery department.

When Dr. Longmire came to UCLA for his first visit in 1948, he was taken aback to find that there was no hospital, only a pastoral arroyo from which the UCLA Medical Center would soon rise. There were no advanced research facilities; scientists worked in temporary Quonset huts scattered around the campus. It wasn't until 1949 that the job of building the medical center and the School of Medicine would begin.

The medical school's first 28 students - 26 men and 2 women - began attending classes in the fall of 1951. Classes were initially held in what had been the reception lounge of the old Religious Conference Building on Le Conte Avenue. Aside from a lecture room, there were five laboratories. In 1951 there were 15 faculty members; by the time the first class graduated in 1955, that number had nearly tripled, to 43. Fun fact: The first medical school class spent $75 purchasing their required textbooks.

In July of 1955, the UCLA Medical Center officially opened its doors. The new building was enormous, with 26 miles of corridor.

The Sixties

Sherman Mellinkoff succeeded Stafford Warren as dean in 1962. Dr. Mellinkoff had come to UCLA in 1953 as an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine. He saw the school through the most tumultuous decade in the nation's recent history, and stayed in the position a remarkable 24 years. He became known as the Dean of Deans.

Under Dr. Mellinkoff, the 60s proved to be a decade of unprecedented growth. The Neuropsychiatric Institute, the Brain Research Institute, and the Marion Davies Children's Center opened their doors. Construction began on the Jules Stein Eye Institute and the Reed Neurological Research Center. By decade's end UCLA had doubled the size of the medical school and the hospital. It had added a School of Dentistry and an independent School of Public Health to an integrated Center for the Health Sciences, which also included a School of Nursing. The medical school had nearly 400 medical students, more than 700 interns and residents, and nearly 200 M.S. and Ph.D. candidates.

Building on earlier efforts to give back to the community, particularly in meeting the needs of the underserved, a partnership was formed with the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in 1966 to train medical students. The goal, then and today, was to provide high-quality, accessible health care, along with research and medical education, in South Los Angeles.

The Seventies

By the 1970s, the reputation of the school had grown as two decades of graduates had begun making their marks as physicians and scientists. Although state and federal funding was not as easy to obtain as in the past, the school was able to continue its dramatic growth thanks to outstanding community support.

In the early 1970s, a formal affiliation was forged with the Venice Family Clinic, which would become the largest free clinic in the nation and a beloved institution for an impoverished community. Important affiliations with Harbor, two VA facilities and Olive-View Medical Center settings for medical students and residents.

In 1974, UCLA joined with UC Riverside in establishing the Biomedical Sciences Program that offers 24 students each year the opportunity to earn both the B.S. and M.D. degrees in seven years instead of the traditional eight. This shortened path to the M.D. degree is the only program of its kind in the State of California.

The 1970s were characterized by high technology and computerization. The UCLA Medical Center, which would admit its one millionth patient by the end of the decade, was renovated to make room for advanced diagnostic equipment.

The Eighties

By the 1980s the expanse of land that the founding faculty first encountered had been covered by the vast Center for the Health Sciences complex. Outside CHS, there were now alliances with 17 community, county, and federal hospitals throughout the region. In 1981, the Doris and Louis Factor Health Sciences Building was dedicated, providing a home for the School of Nursing and Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. In 1987, construction began on UCLA Medical Plaza, an outpatient facility located across the street from the main hospital.

Kenneth I. Shine succeeded Sherman Mellinkoff as dean on July 1, 1986. "You don't replace Dr. Sherman Mellinkoff, you follow him," Dr. Shine said at the time. Nonetheless, Shine brought his own vision and vigor to the challenges facing the school in the last part of the 20th century.

The Nineties

The pace continued to accelerate in the 1990s, and UCLA remained at the forefront in every area including education. Medical students now reflected the diversity of multi-ethnic Southern California, bringing a myriad of backgrounds and life experiences and resulting in graduates better able to serve the entire community. Training future physicians was only part of the school's charge. By the end of the 1990s, there were more than 300 Ph.D. students and 250 postdoctoral fellows, greatly strengthening the research enterprise.

In addition to preparing the next generation of basic scientists, the school expanded its joint M.D./Ph.D. program, in response to the growing importance of training individuals able to translate laboratory findings into clinical gains. Pioneering programs that trained medical residents in clinical research gained national attention.

In 1992 Dr. Shine left UCLA to become President of the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C. Gerald S. Levey, a nationally recognized leader in both academic medicine and private-sector medical affairs, was appointed provost of medical sciences and dean of the medical school in 1994. Dr. Levey set an ambitious course for the school that included expansion of interdisciplinary research and the establishment of a Department of Human Genetics. Under his leadership the Gonda (Goldschmied) Neuroscience and Genetics Research Center was constructed to ensure that UCLA remain at the forefront in these two promising fields.

The New Millennium

In 2002 Mr. David Geffen announced a $200 million unrestricted endowment for the school and the school thus was named. The endowment enables the school to compete in perpetuity with the finest medical institutions in the world for outstanding faculty regardless of the economic climate, to provide critical financial support to enroll the finest students regardless of need, and to develop forward-looking research and clinical programs.

The medical school today has more than 2,000 full-time faculty members, almost 1,300 residents, more than 750 medical students and almost 400 Ph.D. candidates. There are now nearly 150 endowed chairs. UCLA has been ranked "Best in the West" by U.S. News and World Report's annual survey of the best hospitals in America for 21 consecutive years. The medical school is ranked ninth in the country in research funding from the National Institutes of Health and third in the United States in research dollars from all sources.

The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, designed by I.M. Pei, opened its doors in 2008 and is a model for state-of-the-art medical science and patient care in a patient- and staff-friendly environment. The new Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, designed by prominent New York architect Robert A.M. Stern in conjunction with CO Architects, opened its doors in 2008.

In 2010, Dr. A. Eugene Washington, an internationally renowned clinical investigator and health policy scholar whose wide-ranging research has been instrumental in shaping national health policy and practice guidelines, joined UCLA Feb. 1 as Vice Chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences and Dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine.

The dream of the school's founders has been realized. The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA is an internationally recognized leader in research, medical education, and patient care. 

UCLA Rated One of the Top Hospitals in the Nation