A major concern in Huntington and southern West Virginia through the 1970s was the scarcity of physicians and the need for distant travel for those with complex health histories.
With Marshall University’s first class of medical school graduates in 1981, those concerns began to lessen. Congratulations to this class’s 18 physician trailblazers on their 40th reunion. They paved the way for the medical school’s 2,059 future doctors who have vastly improved health care in Huntington, the whole state and beyond.
About 25% to 30% of the over 2,000 graduates of Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine now practice medicine in West Virginia. It is no longer a challenge to find a personal physician as when my husband, Maury, and I moved here.
Maury was recruited here to start the Department of Internal Medicine and agreed to come after Marshall’s medical school received its “Letter of Reasonable Assurance” in 1976, which meant that if all required steps for a new medical school were followed, Marshall would be formally approved.
The medical school didn’t become a reality just because many West Virginians lacked physicians, but rather it was Dr. Al Esposito’s long-time dream. He was a Huntington ophthalmologist who saw the need, lobbied hard and found receptive voices in Marshall University President Robert Hayes, Gov. Arch Moore and West Virginia Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jennings Randolph.
With all the official steps required, the class of ’81 could not start their studies in 1977 but began in January 1978 and continued through the summer. I remember that class because in the first week of January, just before Huntington’s horrible winter weather arrived, we hosted the new medical students and the full-time faculty at our South Side home, which could not be done in future years, as the medical school grew quickly.
I also recall informal “chatter” among state politicians and “bigwigs” suggesting that Marshall’s medical school would fail. At that time, I was taking a political science class from Dr. Simon Perry, who believed that if the medical school could continue for five years and graduate two classes of physicians, it would last.
And it has lasted and changed not only medical care but the economics and direction of Huntington. Today the school has 355 full-time faculty, 315 medical students, 10 M.D./Ph.D. students, 17 Ph.D. students, 25 physician assistant students, 11 graduate research students, 37 B.S./M.D. students and one B.S./Ph.D. student.
When asked about major changes in the medical school in the past five years, Linda Holmes, director of development and alumni affairs, noted growth of residency and fellowship training programs, with 249 residents and fellows now training in primary and specialty care areas needed in West Virginia, increased research including 40 active clinical trials, creation of a Division of Addiction Sciences to address substance use disorder and 75 different specialty care areas and plans to have the nation’s first rural surgery residency program.
Congratulations to Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine class of ’81 on your 40th reunion. Thank you for blazing a vital and lasting trail.