1870-2020: Carver College of Medicine celebrates 150 years in the midst of a pandemic

Carver College of Medicine celebrates 150 years this September, though COVID-19 restrictions prevent the college from celebrating in-person.


Grace Smith

The Roy J. And Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine pictured on Aug. 27, 2020.

Samantha Murray, News Reporter

One hundred fifty years ago, the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine opened to become the first medical school in the U.S. to admit both men and women into its program.

September marks the 150th anniversary of the Carver College of Medicine. While the rise in COVID-19 cases in Johnson County prevents an in-person celebration this year, the celebration continues online and through the faculty.

In the late 19th century, any sort of medical schooling was seen as the equivalent of trade school to the people at that time, said Associate Vice President for Research Francois Abboud.

It was not until 1910 when Abraham Flexner, an agent of the Carnegie Foundation, put out his report about the state of medical schools around the country. The Carver College of Medicine, Abboud said, and many others like it, started to focus more on the scientific aspect of medicine.

“That was very critical, because Flexner came to Iowa in 1909 and looked at those schools and concluded that they should not continue to be a very good school,” Abboud said. “The standards were not high enough for admission and graduation, and he predicted that, of course. We proved him wrong over the century, of course.”

Medical research entered into a “Golden Age” a few decades after the Flexner report, he said. Abboud arrived in the 1960s when there had been an expansion in health services and technology surrounding social programs such as Medicare that had been put into place by former U.S. President Lyndon Johnson.

With the expansion of medical knowledge and services, the Carver College of Medicine began to grow, Abboud said, with many of its staff recognized as leaders nationwide. In all this time, Abboud said he has stayed at the UI and watched it grow.

“The whole environment of the college and the university was dialing everybody to fulfillment of goals, an escalation of opportunities to be productive,” he said. “So, the spirit that was generated, the Iowa cohesive spirit, supportive environment team spirit, I couldn’t find that just as effective any place else.”

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Dean of the Carver College of Medicine Brooks Jackson was the chair of pathology at Johns Hopkins University, and later the dean of the University of Minnesota medical school before arriving at Iowa.

Despite COVID-19, the college throughout its history has never shut down, keeping its roughly 17,000 workers moving throughout the pandemic, Jackson said. While practices such as elective surgeries were unavailable throughout some the past six months, they are once again operating at full capacity, he said.

“We have shifted a lot of our research effort to COVID research, because it is such a high priority … not just locally, but for the nation in the world, and we really do have the experts in this area to make a difference,” Jackson said.

Manager of Alumni and Constituent Engagement Jayme Crawford is a part of the UI Health care marketing communication team. In her 12 years at the UI, she said she stays at the university for the amazing things she sees the staff and students perform at the Carver College of Medicine.

“This celebration has really shown me how as an enterprise we’ve transitioned throughout the years and how we’re constantly maintaining our values and our mission of educating students and being leaders in academic medicine,” Crawford said.