Joel Howell Unveils UMich’s First Hospital History



The University of Michigan’s first hospital, established in 1869, played a significant role in transforming the institution into a research hub, according to Joel Howell, founding director of the Medical Arts Program, and Elizabeth Farrand, a professor of the history of medicine. The establishment of the hospital allowed medical students to gain hands-on training, a novel concept compared to the widespread apprenticeship model of the time. Additionally, Howell discussed the historical enrollment of the first Black medical students, the substantial growth and increased funding of Michigan Medicine over centuries, and the university’s impact on the city of Ann Arbor.

Michigan’s First Hospital’s Historical Impact Discussed at University Event

At the Judy & Stanley Frankel Detroit Observatory, Joel Howell, founding director of the Medical Arts Program, and Elizabeth Farrand, professor of medicine history, held a talk titled “Making Michigan: How U-M’s First Hospital Made History”. Here, they explored how the University’s first hospital promoted growth in both the University and Ann Arbor.

Established in 1847, a mere decade after the University’s inception, the Medical School boosted the University into a research hub. Notably, in 1869, the University of Michigan became the first in the U.S. to open a hospital, providing students with practical training.

Howell explained how the advent of a medical school revolutionized medical practice by providing formal education. Prior to this, medical education was primarily through apprenticeships without licensure requirements or certifications.

Howell also highlighted how the Michigan Legislature established the University and its medical school, which also included a hospital, questioning why a frontier town felt the need for a hospital at that time.

There was a time when the Medical School did not admit students of color. Howell touched on the university’s first African American student, Alpheus Tucker, and the adversities he faced.

Howell also discussed the transformations that have happened within Michigan Medicine, in terms of size and increased funding from the National Institutes of Health.

One student found it interesting that the Medical School’s location was chosen for its proximity to a railroad in Ann Arbor, despite Detroit being a booming city. Another student expressed surprise at how interconnected the medical school is with the city and the University’s contribution to Ann Arbor’s growth.

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