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Office of Medical History and Archives
The Office of Medical History and Archives (OMHA) collects and preserves materials that document the history of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. It also supports historical research, teaching, and other activities that highlight the history of UMMS and the history of American medicine and health care.
History of the University of Massachusetts Medical School
The University of Massachusetts Medical School was established in 1962, a period when national fears over a potential shortage of physicians was reinforced by a new commitment to health care access for the underserved, the elderly, and the chronically ill. Many states, including Massachusetts, sought to address the perceived shortage and undoubted maldistribution of health care professionals by opening new, publicly-funded medical schools.
In Massachusetts, high quality, private medical schools were abundant. Yet few opportunities existed for the local student of moderate means. As a result, in spite of concerted opposition from the private medical schools in Boston, the Legislature chartered the Commonwealth’s first public medical school. Under the leadership of its first dean, Lamar Soutter, M.D., the school opened in 1970 without even waiting for construction of a new building. The first class of sixteen students met with faculty in a former distribution center for candy, cigarettes, and other sundries, formerly owned by the H. E. Shaw Company.
In founding UMass Medical School the Legislature had two goals: to create openings for Massachusetts students to become doctors, and to encourage them to practice in Massachusetts once they entered practice. The school’s founders, on the other hand, were ambitious enough to envision a school that pursued these goals without neglecting high quality research and specialized and/or tertiary care medicine. For that reason, they insisted on the need to build an academic teaching hospital linked to the school.
Today UMMS ranks in the nation’s top ten percent for primary care education and is a leading center for community service and world-class research. Part 1 of a history of the school, The University of Massachusetts Medical School, A History: Integrating Primary Care and Biomedical Research, tells the story of the school’s continuing efforts to balance these goals. Part 2 describes the school’s development over a 45-year period, from a fledgling endeavor to a successful academic health science center.