Colorado's Healthcare Heritage

A Chronology of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Colorado's Five Medical Schools — 1881-1899

Three medical schools opened in Colorado during the 1880s, and then two more opened in 1894 and 1895.

  • 1881 University of Denver and Colorado Seminary Medical Department → the name soon became the Denver College of Medicine → became Denver and Gross Medical College after merger (1902) → merged with the University of Colorado School of Medicine (1910)
  • 1883University of Colorado Department of Medicine and Surgery (Boulder) → University of Colorado School of Medicine → moved from Boulder to Denver in 1925
  • 1887Gross Medical College (Denver) → merged with the Denver College of Medicine to become Denver and Gross Medical College (1902) → merged with the University of Colorado School of Medicine (1910)
  • 1894Denver Homeopathic Medical College → Denver College of Physicians and Surgeons (1908-1909)
  • 1895Western Institute of Osteopathy (Denver) → Bolles Institute of Osteopathy (1899) → Colorado College of Osteopathy (1901) → absorbed by the American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri

No Free Medical Schools!

An editorial in the Denver Medical Times for June 1892 titled "Free Schools" was directed at the University of Colorado, which didn't charge tuition.

The editor — Dr. Thomas H. Hawkins, who had received his MD from the Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York, and who had been personally involved in the establishment of the medical school at the University of Denver — didn't approve of that tuition-free school in Boulder.

"The medical profession is more than overcrowded. Of all the occupations of mankind there is no other which offers for a like expenditure of time and labor, less remuneration of money or honor. In spite of this truth a superabundance of new medical recruits are continually falling into line. . . .

"They may be earnest and industrious, even talented to a considerable measure, yet the fact remains that there is not room in the profession for all the honorable men and women who have taken their degree of medicine, without considering the hordes of quacks and parasites that infest the public.

"Who would say that Denver, with a population averaging 235 people to each practicing physician, with numerous hospitals, dispensaries and free clinics, with doctors, doctors everywhere — who would say that Denver is a good location for the practice of medicine?

"Mainly because it is so easy to become a doctor. If they have no money to pay tuition, they may attend some free medical college until the allotted time has rolled around and the sheepskins are served. Some who graduate in this way are worthy men and able physicians, but for the majority we are candid to confess our belief that the young man who has not enough brains and energy to pay his own way through medical college, will hardly do honor to his vocation.

". . . already the tendency in several of the medical boards of the older states is to discriminate against the graduates of free medical schools. The art of medicine does not by any means come within the proper boundaries of public school education, for why should the state train doctors any more than cooks or carpenters? We hope soon to see the day when this pauperizing of medical students will be done away with forever."

Too Many Schools, Not Enough Professional Control

Two years later, during his 1894 presidential address to the Colorado State Medical Society, Dr. Edmund J.A. Rogers — who had received his MD from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec — lamented the fact that Denver had three medical schools, as well as the fact that the state didn't exercise control by means of a professionally run medical examining board.

"In 1881, a medical school was established in Denver. Although started on a broad basis and with much promise of success, it was not opened under the auspices of this Society, nor was it in any way under the supervision of the profession as a body. This was the time that the Society should have taken up the whole matter of medical education and of the admission of new members from without into its ranks.

"But the opportunity was lost, and we find that within three or four years two other independent schools came into existence, making three in all, in a State with a total population of less than 200,000. Each of these was the sole guide and guardian of its own standards, for though outwardly all complied with a somewhat similar standard, in reality each was without any direct supervision from the profession or from any organized Board representing them.

"No candid, fair-minded man but must admit that this was one of the greatest misfortunes that has befallen the profession in Colorado. The jealousies and antagonism between these schools in their scrambles for the few students that could be found in a State so sparsely settled as this could only lead to harm."

The Colorado State Medical Society's Committee

Following Dr. Rogers' well-received address, the new president, Hubert Work, MD, appointed a committee "whose duty it should be to carry out the idea of ex-President Rogers, as far as possible and report" to the Society's executive committee.

The members of the 1894-1895 Colorado State Medical Society committee on medical schools and legislation:

  • Richard W. Corwin, MD, of Pueblo
  • James Hart, MD, of Colorado Springs
  • Jesse Hawes, MD, of Greeley
  • Tandy A. Hughes, MD, secretary of the State Board of Medical Examiners
  • John R. Robinson, MD, of Colorado Springs
  • S. Edwin Solly, MD, of Colorado Springs
  • Pembroke R. Thombs, MD, of Pueblo
The committee, after meeting several times, submitted a lengthy report that included this:

". . . a bill containing the following salient points was drafted and introduced into the Legislature: That the three State Medical Societies of Colorado, Regular, Homeopathic and Eclectic, shall each recommend to the Governor of the State fifteen of its members, from whom the Governor shall make his appointments to the State Medical Examining Boards. . .

"In addition to the three Boards of Examiners, the bill provided for a Medical Council of Five, to be composed of the Presidents of the three boards, the Attorney General of the State, and a secretary who shall be a graduate of medicine, appointed by the Governor. The duties of the Council to be, to arrange for and supervise all examinations, and settle any questions or differences. . . .

"The bill further provides, that after its enactment, that every person not then practicing medicine who wished to do so shall pass an examination before the State Board of Medical Examiners, receive a certificate, which shall be duly recorded in the County in which he wishes to practice. . . . The bill . . . was framed after the medical bill of Pennsylvania (which we are informed operates very satisfactorily).

"In due time the bill was presented to the legislature. Many of you will no doubt remember its effect upon the quacks of the State, and especially upon the irregulars of the city of Denver. A howl went up that was long and mighty. Then there came before the legislature bill after bill; some asking for more and better laws, others requesting less law, and a number demanding no protection from the quacks, charlatans and vandals, until a score or more of medical propositions appeared before the house. . . .

"By this time so much pressure had been brought to bear upon legislators by irregulars, and, we are sorry to hear, also by regulars who had axes to grind and nests to feather, that it became impossible to pass any bill. . . .

While we have no criticism to make upon the schools, their able faculties and management, we do believe one school could meet the demands of our State at the present time. . . "

The Flexner Report

In 1910, Abraham Flexner published his Medical Education in the United States and Canada: A Report to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which — although widely criticized immediately after publication — led to a paradigm shift in the training of physicians.

Flexner was negative about the Denver and Gross Medical College because it didn't even require a high school diploma for admission, had no full-time faculty members, and was financed only with student fees. Flexner said he saw "a total absence of scientific activity" while he was there, and he ridiculed County Hospital, where Denver and Gross students did what passed for clinical studies.

Flexner and his assistant visited Boulder and found the University of Colorado Department of Medicine and Surgery to be "adequate" — which was enough to ensure its future — but he said that "the University hospital is entirely inadequate." The CU medical school had just been given an "A" rating by the American Medical Association, and had just started requiring 60 hours of college credits for admission.

Abraham Flexner concluded that Denver and Gross Medical College should merge with CU's medical school — which was already being negotiated — and that because Colorado already had twice the national doctor-to-patient ratio, the University of Colorado Department of Medicine and Surgery could safely raise its admission standards.

And Then There Was One

The 1894-1895 Colorado State Medical Society committee had concluded its work in frustration, but the problem of too many medical schools in Colorado was solved by the end of 1910.

  • In 1902, the Denver Medical College and the Gross Medical College merged and became the Denver and Gross Medical College.
  • In 1909, Denver's homeopathic medical college went out of business, and about that same time the osteopathic medical college was absorbed into a school in Missouri.
  • In 1910, after a change to the state constitution, the University of Colorado Department of Medicine and Surgery began teaching its third- and fourth-year students in Denver, four days a week beginning at 8 a.m. at 14th and Welton in what had been a private residence.
  • In 1910, the Denver and Gross Medical College merged with the University of Colorado Department of Medicine and Surgery.
  • In 1925, the University of Colorado School of Medicine moved from Boulder to its new campus at 9th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard in Denver.
Therefore in 1910 — for the first time since 1881 — the University of Denver didn't have a medical school. There was finally just one medical school in Colorado.

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