Bringing Education to the Next Generation of Physicians

Today, there may be a clear distinction between the top medical school in the area (Augusta University) and the premier institution of clinical care (University Health Care System), but the histories of these two organizations are as intertwined and indiscernible as the current name confusion might suggest. Indeed, formal medical education in Augusta traces its origins to the predecessor of both institutions: City Hospital.

“Medicine” in the early 19th century was a loose definition, but the establishment of City Hospital in 1818 marked a step in the right direction for the young state of Georgia. Still, during the humble institution’s early years, care for the sick poor barely amounted to housing and basic nursing services, often provided by the patients themselves.

On Nov. 27, 1822, the “Medical Society of Augusta, Georgia” was established  –  numbering nine physicians who were led by Drs. Anderson Watkins, Alexander Cunningham and Milton Antony  –  with the implied goal of opening a medical college.

Antony had studied and practiced medicine in Pennsylvania, New Orleans, and Monticello, Ga., before settling in Augusta in 1819, and according to the book Memorial History, “the love of learning was in him, and by his own efforts he wrought himself forward to the front rank of his noble profession.” It was that passion for learning that sparked Antony to found the medical school. In 1826, the Augusta City Council authorized Antony to begin teaching at City Hospital, which he did alongside pupil – turned – colleague Joseph Adams Eve  –  though they were unable to confer degrees.

Antony successfully campaigned for a formal medical academy to train Augusta physicians in “the healing art,” and a group known as the Trustees of the Medical Academy of Georgia was authorized on Dec. 20, 1828, to confer the degree of Bachelor of Medicine, bestowed after a one – year course of study. Beginning on Oct. 1, 1829, seven students received instruction from three faculty, including Dr. L.P. Garvin (anatomy and surgery), Dr. Lewis Ford (who served as dean and taught materia medica, chemistry and pharmacy) and Antony (institute and practice of medicine, midwifery and diseases of women and children).

On Dec. 19, 1829, the institution’s name was changed to the Medical Institute of the State of Georgia, in recognition of the need for more rigorous instruction. In April 1833, it conferred its first four Doctor of Medicine degrees.

While the school eventually secured its own dedicated space, students, residents and practicing physicians relied on City Hospital  –  later University Hospital  –  as their clinical extension. The close and symbiotic relationship continued for over a century, with an early residency program established in 1888 and formalized in 1919. Augusta politics ultimately got the better of this relationship, which turned into a “rocky marriage” ending in divorce during the late 1940s when the Medical College of Georgia began taking steps toward opening its own independent teaching hospital.

Photo: Historical Collections & Archives,
Robert B. Greenblatt, M.D. Library, Augusta University

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