Saving Lives, Training Caregivers, Making Discoveries: A Centennial History of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (review)
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Reviewed by
Chester R. Burns. Saving Lives, Training Caregivers, Making Discoveries: A Centennial History of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2003. xii + 660 pp. Ill. $49.95 (0-87611-187-8).

In 1881 the people of Texas voted that the medical department of their new state university should be established in the prosperous port city of Galveston. There it has remained, despite repeated efforts of successive presidents of the University of Texas to move it to the main campus at Austin. In 1900 it survived a hurricane that destroyed much of the city of Galveston, a disaster that only reinforced the determination of Texans to keep it in its appointed place. It has grown into a large medical complex.

The medical school opened in 1891 in a splendid, but largely empty, new red sandstone building adjacent to a new hospital constructed by the family of a former Galveston businessman, John Sealy, to provide clinical training for medical students. Three of the professors were young men from elsewhere: two from Great Britain, one from Pennsylvania; others were Galveston physicians, some of whom had served as surgeons in the Confederate army. Except for anatomy, instruction was largely by lectures, as it had been in American medical schools throughout the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, Texas medical students soon were taught to use the microscope, and in 1916 clinical clerkships began in the Sealy Hospital. [End Page 749]

In his centennial history of the Medical Branch at Galveston, to which he devoted more than sixteen years, Chester Burns traces in separate chapters various aspects of its evolution into a great medical center. Administrative leadership, financial history and business personnel, and buildings are each treated separately. Patient care, teaching, and the social life of the Galveston campus also receive separate chapters. There is no one way to treat the history of a large and very complex institution, but parallel histories of various aspects of its life do lead occasionally to repetition. More seriously, they may fail to portray clearly the shape of large events in its history.

In his history of administration, Burns describes the stormy deanship of Dr. John Spies from 1939 to 1942. In 1942 the AAMC and AMA both placed the Galveston medical school on probation. To replace Spies, the University of Texas regents appointed Chauncey D. Leake, then professor of pharmacology at the University of California-San Francisco, to be vice president and dean of the Medical Branch. With boundless cheerfulness, generosity, and good will, Leake restored order at Galveston, quickly gaining the trust of faculty, staff, and students. He projected a humane vision of the history of medicine and sought to enlarge and enrich the medical library. Burns discusses Leake's administration in chapter 2. In chapter 4 he describes Leake's efforts to obtain new buildings, which by 1955 included a medical science building, three new hospital buildings, and an eight-building complex to provide dormitories, apartments, a dining room, and other facilities for medical students, nurses, and residents. In chapter 7, he mentions Leake's launch of the distinguished journal Texas Reports on Biology and Medicine and his appointment of investigators such as Charles Pomerat, who established a tissue-culture laboratory, and Arild Hansen in pediatrics. While the new buildings, new journal, and new faculty appointments were major achievements of Leake's administration, they do not emerge as forcefully as they might in Burns's account of Leake's struggles with the university president and regents. A similar dispersal applies to his accounts of the work of Truman Blocker and other administrators.

In his desire to avoid the depiction of mythic heroes and villains, Burns mentions the medical faculty sparingly. Deliberately emphasizing the work of nurses, nurse's aides, ward clerks, orderlies, and even janitors and gardeners, he describes the evolution of the School of Nursing and the School of Allied Health Sciences, which included departments of medical technology, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. He also describes the emergence of a Graduate School of Biomedical Science, essential for the development of biomedical research at Galveston. Each chapter is annotated extensively. The book includes thirty-four appendices containing factual...