The Origins of The University of the Philippines College of Medicine


Gastroenterologist Dr. Jun Ruiz chronicles the beginnings of the country’s premier medical school from its foundation in 1905 to its evolution as a Center of Excellence

By Atenodoro R. Ruiz, Jr. M.D.

The AuthorEver since high school, I had always dreamt of becoming a doctor. This was motivated by my desire to heal the sick, alleviate their suffering, and direct their recovery back to their well-being. Entering college, I had high aspirations and passion to learn infinite medical knowledge.

My late father was a kind and compassionate physician, well-loved by the community, and he inspired me to pursue the loftiest of my goals to become a doctor like him. Later, he would become a public servant as an elected government official, wherein he promoted the health agenda in a bigger scale in our home city.

When I set my sights on becoming a doctor, I knew that I wanted to enter the prestigious University of the Philippines College of Medicine (UPCM). This medical school is regarded by most authorities as the top-ranked medical institution in the country. As a matter of fact, its reputation is highly regarded in the world that it is the only Philippine medical university to make it to the Top 500 QS World University Rankings every year.

Getting into the highly competitive UPCM requires hard work, dedication, personal sacrifices, and giving up a lot of things during your pre-medical college years. In the end, it is a great honor and privilege to be a part of this esteemed medical institution. Looking back after several years, my successes in postgraduate trainings in the United States and in my current medical practice are deeply rooted in where my journey all began – the UP College of Medicine.

The facade of the UP College of Medicine main building as it appeared in 1933. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Rafael Bundoc)
The facade of the UP College of Medicine main building as it appeared in 1933. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Rafael Bundoc)

Looking back

In this occasion of the upcoming University of the Philippines Medical Alumni Society (UPMAS) Homecoming, let us look back at the past – especially during its origins and infancy of our alma mater. By going back in time to its inception, we can appreciate its remarkable growth and its substantial impact on molding us from motivated medical students during our scholastic years to the socially-conscious physicians that we are today.

When the United States occupied the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century, American pioneer Dr. Victor Heiser, who was appointed as the Director of the Bureau of Health, observed that “the hospitals in the Philippine Islands were of the most primitive type, and modern medicine had not penetrated far.”

Then Secretary of Interior of the Philippine Commission Dean C. Worcester conceived an original vision of building a hospital, a medical school, and a laboratory as one integral complex in the new American colony that paved the way to the development of the current medical college and the Philippine General Hospital.

Dr. William E. Musgrave directed the development of the technical planning of the medical school and a new hospital toward treatment of local endemic and tropical diseases. However, the primary challenge is the critical shortage of Filipino physicians, and the need to train the Filipino doctors to man this proposed medical center.

The Second Philippine Commission by the authority of the United States passed Act No. 1415 on Dec 1, 1905 to establish a medical school with American curricular requirements to be known as the Philippine Medical School. This would be the forerunner of the current University of the Philippines College of Medicine.

At the end of the Philippine-American War, the country was plagued by major health problems, like cholera and smallpox. The need for more physicians to care for Filipino patients was apparent to the Commission. Dr. Paul Casper Freer, an American physician and a professor of chemistry, became the first dean (1907- 1912), and the school opened its doors on June 10, 1907.

The initial four-year medical course required only a high school diploma upon admission. The name was changed to College of Medicine and Surgery in 1908. It produced its first graduates in 1909, with all eight graduates being transferees from the University of Santo Tomas. The college transferred to its current location in 1910.

Philippine General Hospital

The Philippine General Hospital (PGH) was authorized in 1907, and constructed in the grounds adjacent to the school. It eventually opened on September 10, 1910, with 350 bed-capacity. Dr. Heiser was the first director of the newly-opened hospital. PGH was attached to the medical school, as the hospital was established not only to treat patients, but also to provide clinical instruction and training for the medical students. The Institute of Science and Technology formed the third element of the triumvirate as envisioned by Prof. Worcester and the American pioneers.

The University of the Philippines (UP) was created in 1908 under the Philippine Legislature Act No. 1870, known as the University Charter, as the first and premier state institution of higher learning in the country. The Ermita Campus at Padre Faura became the seat of excellence in education and advanced instruction in health sciences, literature, philosophy, and the arts. The medical college became formally affiliated with the University on December 8, 1910. Thus, the then-known UP College of Medicine and Surgery is older than UP, making it the oldest degree-granting unit of the system. Later, the School of Pharmacy, Department of Dentistry, and the School of Public Health were added under the College of Medicine. The UP College of Medicine officially assumed its shortened and current name in 1923

During its formative years, leading American professors, scientists, and pioneers guided the medical college and the teaching hospital. Dr. Musgrave, who was head of the Department of Medicine and very active in tropical medicine, succeeded Dr. Freer as dean (1912-16). Dr. Ferdinand Calderon, the first head of Obstetrics and Gynecology, became the third dean and the first Filipino dean of the college (1916-36). He also served concurrently as the director of the PGH. There were several Filipino doctors, in addition to American physicians, who constituted the first faculty.

The school then followed the standard American medical curricula of a 5 year-course, but additional of units in tropical medicine were incorporated in the fifth year. In 1913, a hospital year was added (sixth year) for those graduates wanting to join the government medical service. Passing the medical board examinations became a requirement in 1920. Later, the fifth year was designated as internship, and became a prerequisite for graduation in 1923. The first ever UP Alumni Homecoming was held for the first time in 1925.

Dean Antonio G. Sison

The medical college flourished with new developments, and continued to grow during the 1930s. Dr. Antonio G. Sison succeeded Dr. Calderon as the concurrent UPCM Dean and PGH Director (1937-1951). Advancements in the teaching instruction, like the launching of clinico-pathologic conferences, bedside teaching, and the establishment of modern laboratory facilities, further improve the high-quality of the didactics in the college. His deanship has been referred as “the Renaissance Period of Medicine in the Philippines”, primarily of his efforts to upgrade the medical education in the country.

In 1940, UPCM was ranked “Class A” medical school by the Association of American Medical Colleges and earned a full-fledged membership. Furthermore, PGH nearly doubled its initial capacity, as three additional wings were constructed and with the addition of the Cancer Institute.

The laboratories in the college provided the venue for the applications of the didactics. (Photo Courtesy of Dr. Rafael Bundoc)
The laboratories in the college provided the venue for the applications of the didactics. (Photo Courtesy of Dr. Rafael Bundoc)

The harsh reality of World War II and the horrors of the Japanese occupation had been catastrophic to the country. It would almost close UP and other educational institutions, with the exception of the UPCM. Despite the ravages of war, the UPCM continued to function as a medical institution, and PGH maintained its operations in treating sick patients.

However, there was extensive damage to the hospital and the school buildings after it suffered air strikes from the liberating American forces. Academic and physical rehabilitation of the college and PGH started after the war. Financial assistance to these rebuilding efforts in the form of generous donations and contributions started pouring from its alumni, especially from the members of the UP Medical Alumni Society (UPMAS). The society was founded in 1946, and it has been active in supporting many of the endeavors and projects of the UPCM.

In 1949, the seat of the UP System was transferred to the “distant” cogonstrewn Diliman, Quezon City. All colleges of UP Manila with the exception of the Colleges of Medicine, Dentistry, and Public Health were transferred to Diliman.

Milestones, breakthroughs

From the 1950s to the present day, there have been numerous extraordinary achievements, milestones, and breakthroughs that the UPCM have contributed to the local medical landscape.

A replica of Jose Rizal’s “Triumph of Science over Death” statue (Lady Med or Scientia) graced the facade of UPCM starting 1959. The first open-heart surgery and kidney transplant in the Philippines were performed at PGH in the 1950s and 1960s, respectively.

The Philippine General Hospital opened in September 2010. This picture was taken circa 1920. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Rafael Bundoc)
The Philippine General Hospital opened in September 2010. This picture was taken circa 1920. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Rafael Bundoc)

In 1963, the premiere of “Tao Rin Pala” would result into an annual spectacle of song and dance numbers by the medical students, providing proof that they are human after all in the midst of serious medical environment.

In 1982, UPCM became the first medical college to offer a seven-year program that integrated the pre-medical course with medicine proper called the Integrated Liberal Arts and Medicine (INTARMED) was officially implemented.

The establishment of National Institute of Health, the shift to Organ System Integration (OSI) Curriculum, and the implementation of Return Service Obligation, added to the impressive reputation of the college.

Like the several thousands of alumni who graduated from this college, entering the portals of UPCM during my freshman year was an affirmation to be among the best and brightest. With concerted efforts from all sectors, the UPCM believes that it will continue to achieve its goals, and remain the Center of Excellence in Medical Education. The greatest legacy that an institution can offer is the caliber and character of its graduates. To the UPCM, I am very thankful indeed.

“The greatest legacy that an institution can offer is the caliber and character of its graduates.”

November 2017 Health and Lifestyle

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