Our Story

Drawing of original medical college in 1846

In 1810, the first physician came to Cleveland to minister to the needs of the area’s 57 inhabitants. He ran a local store to supplement his income. 

By the late 1830s, there were two dozen physicians and surgeons. By the 1850s, first canals and then railroads connected the isolated market town to other major centers. In barely 40 years, a town established with less than 1,000 people grew to more than 40,000.

There was talk of a medical school.

There was actually already a school to the east of Cleveland, but it was mired in financial difficulties and four of its six professors resigned. Together, they approached Western Reserve College in Hudson and asked to establish a medical department. The first classes began in the fall of 1843.

This is how our story begins. A quiet Cleveland determination, a desire for something better. We are proud of what we have accomplished in that rich and storied history. But even more than the accomplishments themselves, we cherish the resiliency and purpose that cradles those innovations. We dream of a better way and those dreams encourage us to confront the expectations and boundaries of medical education and research.

Because at School of Medicine, the dream is only the beginning. 

School and Faculty Innovations

  • 1 of the first medical schools in the country to employ full-time instructors for teaching and research
  • Initiated the most advanced medical curriculum in the country in 1952, pioneering integrated education, a focus on organ systems, and team teaching in the preclinical curriculum.
  • 1st MD/PhD dual degree program in the country, upon which the NIH and others modeled their programs
  • 1st DMD/MD dual degree program in the country
  • 1st adolescent health concentration in a Master of Public Health degree program
  • 1st professorship of dentistry in an American medical school
  • 1st medical school to provide laptop computers to all students
  • 3rd institution in history to receive the best possible score from LCME, the medical degree accrediting body
  • 1st treatise on surgical diseases of children
  • 1st simulated milk formula for infants
  • 1st CPR course
  • 1st successful defibrillation of the human heart
  • 1st diagnostic test for carpal tunnel syndrome
  • 1st discovery of Bovine Growth Hormone polyadenylation signal (BGH Poly-A)
  • 1st creation of artificial human chromosome
  • 1st link found between oral bacteria and preterm birth in humans
  • 1st stool DNA tests for early detection of colon cancer
  • 1st rapid-detection device for malaria
  • Development of Magnetic Resonance Fingerprinting

Significant Events and Scientific Advancements

Institutional Events
Year Event
1843 The Medical Department of Western Reserve College is founded in Cleveland, Ohio after former faculty from nearby Willoughby University asked the WRC trustees to create a new medical department. John Lang Cassels, MD, is the first dean.
1856 Beginning with Nancy Talbot Clarke [1852] and Emily Blackwell [1854], the Medical Department has now graduated six of the first seven women to earn a medical degree from a recognized medical school in the U.S. The other women were Marie Zakrzewska, Sarah Ann Chadwick, Elisabeth Griselle, and Cordelia Agnes Greene.
1860 Medical Department graduation requirements included three years of study, a thesis, testimonials of good moral character and an oral examination. Those with a Bachelor of Arts degree could graduate after two years, while those who had been in medical practice for at least four years could graduate after a year. 
1865 Charles B. Purvis, the third African American to earn a medical degree from a recognized American medical school, graduates from the Medical Department. He was only the third African American physician to graduate with an MD from a regular medical school in the U.S. Later, Dr. Purvis became a civil rights activist and led a long, distinguished career. Among many accomplishments, he was the first African American physician to care for a sitting president, lead a civilian hospital, and serve on the DC Board of Medical Examiners.
1875 The Medical Department begins a professorship of oral surgery and dental pathology, creating the first professorship of dentistry in any American medical school.
1887 The second Medical Department building, constructed on the site of the first one, is considered to be one of the best medical buildings in the country. 
1911 Abraham Flexner conducts a now-famous survey of all medical schools in the U.S. and Canada on behalf of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, concluding that the medical school at Western Reserve was second only to that of Johns Hopkins: "Of the future of Western Reserve there is no doubt . . . it is already one of the substantial schools in the country."
1913 The Western Reserve University Medical Department is renamed the School of Medicine.
1914 In 1914 a formal affiliation between MetroHealth and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine was forged, combining research with education and creating a partnership to further medical science.
1924 The School moves into new facilities in University Circle. At the time, the new building was the largest structure occupied by any medical school in the U.S. and considered the best-equipped preclinical science building in the country at that time.
1952 Introduction of the “new curriculum,” a revolutionary change in medical education that became the international standard within a decade. The basic tenets focused on organ systems, integrated basic and clinical sciences, introduced students to patients and clinical work in the first year, and created a collegial educational environment for both faculty and students. These principles continue to be applied in the school's Western Reserve2 curriculum today. 
1956 CWRU offers the first dual MD/PhD program in the country, which becomes a model for similar programs
1989 The International Child Health track is the first known dedicated program in pediatric residency training.
1990 Construction begins on the Biomedical Research Building
1995 The School redefines American medical education again with the innovative Western Reserve curriculum, an extension of the 1952 principles, and including a focus on problem solving; self-directed learning; integrated basic and clinical sciences; and interdisciplinary teaching. 
2001 The School's Center for Adolescent Health announces formation of the country’s first adolescent health concentration in a Master of Public Health degree program.
2001 The School of Medicine breaks ground for a new science wing to the Harland G. Wood Building, which was built in 1924. The new eight-story glass and steel addition is part of a $21 million project.
2002 The School of Medicine became only the third institution in history to receive the best review possible from the body that grants accreditation to U.S. and Canadian medical degree programs, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education
2004 The first class of 32 medical students is welcomed into the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University, a special collaborative program in the School of Medicine between the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western University. Students graduate with an MD and specialized skills in biomedical research.
2006 The School of Medicine partners with the Cleveland Municipal School District to create the School of Science and Medicine at John Hay High School, the first such school in the nation.
2006 The School of Medicine launches the Western Reserve2, the latest major evolution in the curriculum, interweaving four themes: research and scholarship; clinical mastery; teamwork and leadership; and civic professionalism and health advocacy to prepare students to learn in a rapidly changing healthcare environment.
2007  The School of Dental Medicine and the School of Medicine establish the dual DMD/MD degree, the first program of its kind in the country to offer a dual degree for students pursuing studies to become general dentists
2007 Pamela B. Davis, MD, PhD , is appointed Case Western Reserve University's first woman dean of the School of Medicine.
2015 Microsoft partners with Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic to develop medical and engineering platforms for the newly produced HoloLens virtual reality technology.
2016 Physician Assistant programs enrolls first class of students.
2019 The new four-story, 485,000-square-foot Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion opened. This state-of-the-art building houses the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, School of Dental Medicine and the School of Medicine, including its Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine track, in an effort to promote interprofessional education that prepares students for real-world patient care.


Scientific Advancements
Year Scientific Advancement
1896 In 1896, Dayton C. Miller took the first full X-ray of the human body. In one of the earliest test use cases, Miller, who was working at Case School of Applied Sciences (now Case School of Engineering), diagnosed an improperly set arm in a patient of George Crile, chief of surgery at Lakeside Hospital and later one of the founders of Cleveland Clinic.
1906 First modern blood transfusion using a canula to join blood vessels by surgeon and faculty member George Crile, MD.
1909 Faculty member, alumnus and prominent pediatric surgeon Samuel Kelley, MD, drafts The Surgical Diseases of Children, the first such treatise by an American surgeon.
1911 Roger Perkins, MD, convinced Cleveland city officials to chlorinate the city's water in an attempt to eliminate enteric diseases like typhoid and, later, developed a method of filtering the water supply. By 1925, these improvements were fully in place and these diseases had virtually disappeared in the city. 
1915 First simulated milk formula for infants, by alumnus and pediatrics professor Henry Gerstenberger, MD.
1926 Benjamin S. Kline, MD, develops the Kline test, a rapid precipitation test for diagnosing syphilis.
1934 Harry Goldblatt, MD, develops the first animal model of hypertension and “Goldblatt clamps” to discover the cause of essential hypertension: constricting the renal artery which reduces blood supply to the kidneys. 
1935 First surgical treatment of coronary artery disease by Claude Beck, MD, the nation’s first professor of cardiovascular surgery. He later performed the first successful defibrillation of the human heart (1947), taught the first course in CPR (1950), and performed the first successful reversal of an otherwise fatal heart attack (1955).
1950 Henry A. Zimmerman, MD, is the first to catheterize the left side of the human heart.
1950 George Phalen, MD, identifies carpal tunnel syndrone and creates the first diagnostic test, still in use today.
1953 Frederick Cross, MD, and his partner, Earle Kay, MD, develop the first heart-lung machine for use during open-heart surgery.
1954 F. Mason Sones, Jr., MD, the "father" of coronary angiography,  introduces cardiac catheterization in neonatal patients. In 1958, he completes the first selective coronary arteriogram and, later, is the first to combine cardiac catheterization, angiography, and high speed x-ray motion picture photography as a single procedure.
1957 First synthesis of angiotensin by F. Merlin Bumpus, PhD.
1969 Jay Ankeney, MD, and Claude Beck, MD, perform the first successful off-pump open-heart surgery
1982 Fritz Rottman, PhD; Rick Woychik, PhD; and Edward Goodwin, PhD, discover Bovine Growth Hormone polyadenylation signal (BGH PolyA). Later, the signal is licensed to develop a widely-used treatment for non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  
1997 Creation of the first artificial human chromosome by a team from the department of genetics led by Huntington Willard, PhD. 
2006 The first link of oral bacteria and preterm birth is found in humans by researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and School of Dental Medicine.
2008 Bioethicist Insoo Hyun, PhD, leads the International Society for Stem Cell Research international task force of experts from 13 countries in developing new guidelines for the responsible development of safe and effective stem cell therapies for patients.
2008 Sanford Markowitz, MD, PhD, develops the first stool DNA tests for early detection of colon cancer. In 2016, Dr. Markowitz and his team go on to discover a new gene mutation unique to colon cancers in African Americans.
2013 Mark Griswold, PhD, develops Magnetic Resonance Fingerprinting, a new MRI technology that can identify specific diseases and tissues. 
2014 Brian Grimberg, PhD, develops the first malaria rapid-detection device that can effectively diagnose the disease in malaria-endemic regions. The device earns a Patent From Humanity Award from the Commerce Department's United States Patent and Trademark Office in 2016.
2015 Jackson T. Wright, Jr., MD, PhD, is principal investigator for CWRU during the NIH's Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT), which selected only five clinical center networks in the country to participate. The study upends the current guidelines for treating high blood pressure by recommending that systolic blood pressure goals should be below 120, 20 points below the current standard of 140.


Notable People

At least eleven Nobel Prize holders have ties to the School of Medicine:

  • John J.R. Macleod, MB, ChB, DPH, physiology professor at Case from 1903 to 1918, shared the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of insulin. Dr. Macleod completed much of his groundwork on diabetes in Cleveland.
  • Corneille J.F. Heymans, MD, who was a visiting scientist in the Department of Physiology in 1927 and 1928, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1938 for work on carotid sinus reflexes.
  • Frederick C. Robbins, MD, shared the 1954 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on the polio virus, which led to the development of polio vaccines. He received the award two years after joining the medical school. Dr. Robbins was active at the school until his death in 2003, at which time he held the titles of medical school dean emeritus, University Professor emeritus, and emeritus director of the Center for Adolescent Health.
  • Earl W. Sutherland Jr., MD, who had been professor and director of pharmacology from 1953 to 1963, won the 1971 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for establishing the identity and importance of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (AMP) in the regulation of cell metabolism.
  • Paul Berg, PhD, who earned his biochemistry degree at the university in 1952, received the 1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for pioneering research in recombinant DNA technology.
  • H. Jack Geiger, MD, a 1958 alumnus of the medical school, is a founding member and past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, which shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize as part of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize as part of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
  • George H. Hitchings, PhD, who had been a biochemistry instructor from 1939 to 1942, shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for research leading to the development of drugs to treat leukemia, organ transplant rejection, gout, the herpes virus and AIDS-related bacterial and pulmonary infections.
  • Alfred G. Gilman, MD, PhD, a 1969 graduate of the medical school, shared the 1994 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for identifying the role of G proteins in cell communication.
  • Ferid Murad, MD, PhD, a 1965 graduate of the medical school, shared the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries concerning nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system.
  • Paul C. Lauterbur, PhD, a 1951 graduate of the engineering school and a visiting professor of radiology at Case in 1993, shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for pioneering work in the development of magnetic resonance imaging.
  • Peter C. Agre, MD, who completed a fellowship in hematology at Case while a medical student at Johns Hopkins, shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discoveries that have clarified how salts and water are transported out of and into the cells of the body, leading to a better understanding of many diseases of the kidneys, heart, muscles and nervous system.

Two other distinguished alumni have served as U.S. surgeon general: Jesse Steinfeld, MD, a 1949 graduate, was surgeon general from 1969 to 1973, and David Satcher, MD, PhD, who graduated in 1970 and was surgeon general from 1998 to 2002.

Satcher also served as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1993 to 1998, and another medical school graduate, Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, followed in his footsteps, in 2002 becoming the first woman to be named CDC director.