A Century of Medical Excellence

Scaife Building under construction

Our History

Chartered in 1886 as the Western Pennsylvania Medical College, a free-standing school formed by local physicians, what would become Pitt's School of Medicine sought university affiliation even in its early years. In 1891, the school affiliated with the Western University of Pennsylvania and, two decades later, was integrated into the newly renamed University of Pittsburgh.

Abraham Flexner, a renowned educator, published his first report, "Medical Education in the U.S. and Canada," in 1910 after he had visited 155 medical schools, including Pitt Med. The Flexner Report, in effect, removed medical education from the apprenticeship era and laid the foundations for the integrated academic basic science and clinical curricula of today. In this first report, Flexner made the following comments relative to Pitt Med:

Since the present management took hold last fall, the admission of students has been more carefully supervised, the building has been put in excellent condition.... Whole-time instructors of modern training and ideals have been secured... A new building is in the process of erection...

Flexner went on to cite the school as an example of what could be accomplished through sound University management.

For the next four decades the school continued to evolve. Most of the clinical teaching was provided by volunteer or part-time faculty. The number of full-time faculty in the preclinical area expanded as teaching demands increased, and a more sophisticated curriculum was instituted.

At the end of World War II, planning for a major change was initiated with the encouragement and assistance of the Mellons, a prominent Pittsburgh family. Pitt accepted the University Health Center concept and, in 1953, appointed the first vice chancellor of the schools of the health professions. Plans were made to house the Pitt Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy in a new building contiguous to the principal teaching hospitals and the Graduate School of Public Health. Under these plans, the medical school would engage a full-time teaching faculty for all departments. 

To generate the necessary capital, the University planned a fund drive to raise an endowment. A handsome beginning was made when, by mid-December 1953, $15 million was assured by grants of $5 million each from the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, and the Sarah Mellon Scaife Foundation.

The new building, Alan Magee Scaife Hall was completed in 1956 and vigorous recruitment of additional full-time faculty began. With increased facilities and faculty, Pitt Med began to be recognized as a major center for research. In turn, the school's faculty attracted appreciable support for research and training from the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies. Moreover, the school became assured of financial support for medical education when, in 1967, Pitt became state related as part of Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education.

Today, Pitt Med continues to build upon the strong foundation of past leaders and dedicated physicians. Clinical and basic research have grown remarkably and continue to attract support from federal institutions, private foundations and corporations. The school's faculty is currently ranked among the top 20 nationwide in federal grant and contract support. Innovative ventures such as a new, expanded MD/PhD program, an integrated curriculum, a physician-investigator fellowship training program, an organ transplant program, the Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, and Pittsburgh NMR Institute, promise to keep the school at the forefront of progress in education, research and patient care.

Read our history book online