MUSC Bicentennial Documentary: A trip down memory lane

January 16, 2024
Closeup of a woman who is wearing glasses and a rose colored top with a scarf. She has raised her hands.
MUSC’s first African American female graduate from the College of Medicine, Rose Delores Gibbs, M.D.

Surrounded at a table by South Carolina’s brightest physicians, David Ramsay, M.D., one of South Carolina’s earliest visionaries, pondered the idea of starting a medical college in the state, something that had never been done in the Deep South. A prominent figure in Charleston back in 1789, Ramsay asked a question to his fellow members of the Medical Society of South Carolina, a group composed of the top physicians in the state, “What could formal medical education in the South look like?”

His idea would spark James Moultrie, M.D., a fourth-generation physician in Charleston, to petition state legislators for the establishment of a medical school in South Carolina in 1823. The state rejected his petition, but that answer wasn’t good enough for the physician whose ahead-of-his-time ideas would help to create the four-year medical training we see today.

Moultrie would petition the legislature a second time, and the Medical College of South Carolina was established in 1824. Ramsay would unfortunately not live to see his vision come to fruition, but his innovative ideas would lead to the establishment of the Medical College of South Carolina and its first graduating class just 10 years after his death.

“The College of Medicine is one of the oldest in the country. It is the 10th oldest, as a matter of fact,” said Jerry Reves, M.D., Dean Emeritus and Distinguished University Professor of the College of Medicine. “The Medical Society, like the legislature, refused to put any money into it. So, the original faculty, they reached into their own pockets and actually had a building built with their own money so that they could open their medical school.”

This is just a hint of all that South Carolinians will get to see during MUSC’s upcoming hourlong Bicentennial documentary, titled “MUSC at 200: THEN, NOW, NEXT,” set to air on South Carolina Educational Television this month. Viewers will not only get to experience the history of the Medical College of South Carolina’s founding but also hear captivating and heartwarming storytelling from figures who have watched its growth and transformation into a state institution and nationally respected academic health sciences center.

“The change from the Medical College of South Carolina to the Medical University, it was a name change, but it was more than that,” said H. Biemann Othersen Jr., M.D., MUSC Emeritus Chief of Pediatric Surgery and part of the first organ transplant team at MUSC. “It was the fact that the medical school was no longer a local institution. It was now a nationwide University. I happened to be coming along at a time when it was making that transition.”

Viewers can also expect to hear powerful accounts that capture historic moments in MUSC’s history, such as the retelling of the graduation of MUSC’s first African American female graduate from the College of Medicine, Rose Delores Gibbs, M.D.

“So as our names were called, we walked up the two flights of steps to the platform and then walked forward,” she recounted.

“Well, when I was making the left turn, I had a view of the hospital. The hospital windows were all up, you know, different from the hospital windows today. And when I looked up, there were African American nurses, LPNs, orderlies, ward clerks, on different levels of 
the hospital. About 12 floors, 10 to 12 floors, and they were all over the place. And I could see them looking out of the window, looking down at me, and I am walking towards them. We were in solidarity with each other. As I walked down, no one else's name was called until I exited down and went back to my seat. To me, MUSC is where I was able to make dreams come true.”

The Bicentennial celebration will provide an opportunity for the entire community to reflect on the past
and look forward to the possibilities of the future while recognizing the incredible accomplishments and dedication of the those who have been part of its journey.

“Two-hundred years of anything and continuity is very unique, you know,” said MUSC President David J. Cole, M.D., FACS. “If you look at the founding of the Medical College of South Carolina in 1824, the group that met in 1823 and prior to that, they were considered the innovators in their time, and they came together because they felt there was a need.Is it not awesome that throughout history, 200 years, which parallels an entire nation, we've been present and accounted for every step along the way, and have more potential, more opportunity to make even further impact than at any point in the last hundred years?”

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