MUSC's legacy of innovation, resilience and 200 years of health care education

January 16, 2024
Two women wearing white lab coats stand by a bed containing a manikin. One woman is gesturing.
Nursing instructor Dawn Terzulli and clinical instructor Heather Neeley, right, work in a simulation lab, something that might have amazed the founders of what was once the Medical College of South Carolina. Photo by Sarah Pack

Beginning this month, we will commemorate the Medical College of South Carolina’s founding in 1824 and celebrate our 200th birthday in grand fashion, with a yearlong slate of festivities, events and activities across the entire MUSC system. Built on a proud legacy of dedicated health care providers, educators and researchers, our institution has grown from a small medical college into the burgeoning Medical University of South Carolina. As we remember our past and embrace our present, we look to the future with tremendous anticipation. 

“We are excited to celebrate the tenacity, grit and innovative spirit of the visionaries who founded the Medical University of South Carolina in 1824,” said MUSC President David J. Cole, M.D., FACS. “We look forward to honoring the 200-year legacy of contributions, milestones and firsts that MUSC faculty, leaders, students and staff have made to the health care journey here in South Carolina and the U.S. The foundation our history provides allows the institution to build today and explore tomorrow with optimism.” 

The Medical College of South Carolina’s first classes were held on Nov. 8, 1824, in its own building on the corner of Queen and Franklin streets. 

Though MUSC was founded in Charleston, it now serves as a trusted bastion of health care, education and research across the entire Palmetto State. With that in mind, we invite our statewide community to join us in celebrating this historic high point at one of our many exciting events that will take place throughout the year. 

Just a small taste of the many events includes a virtual lecture series that will feature several distinctive presentations, with special guests like Joshua Kim, program director of the Human Centered Design Program, and Jerry Reves, M.D., Dean Emeritus and Distinguished University Professor, College of Medicine, among others. Offering the series virtually provides an all-encompassing opportunity for employees and alumni across the entire MUSC system, in addition to patients and community members throughout the state, to view these special presentations. 

Rounding out some exciting events, an expressive art show, featuring South Carolina artists, and a time capsule adventure will also take center stage at points during the year. 

We’re also inviting all MUSC alumni from all classes back for a three-day mass celebration in Charleston from Feb. 29 through March 2. Alumni weekend will feature a cocktail reception, class reunions and an alumni symposium. Later in the year, members of the MUSC leadership team will visit numerous cities throughout the state, sharing the latest news and exciting updates with alumni of all six colleges. Sept.9 through 17 will include visits to areas such as Greenville, Rock Hill, Columbia, Florence, Hilton Head Island and Beaufort and the Charleston environs, including Nexton and Kiawah Island. 

For the past year, MUSC has worked in close collaboration with South Carolina Educational Television (SCETV) to produce a special hourlong program that will begin airing across the state on Jan. 25. The documentary, “MUSC at 200: THEN. NOW. NEXT,” shares milestones from our past and the important work that we are currently doing across the state and provides a glimpse of the future we are building together. This film features 30 current and former MUSC leaders and faculty and staff members. 

Throughout the year, you’ll also have the opportunity to visit one of several MUSC Bicentennial traveling exhibits. Exhibits featuring each of MUSC’s six colleges, the history of MUSC and the past, present and future of MUSC innovations will traverse the state, visiting various MUSC locations throughout the year, including Regional Health Network medical centers. A full schedule is available on the Bicentennial website. 

"As we celebrate 200 years at MUSC, we honor our rich legacy of educational excellence and research discoveries," said Lisa Saladin, PT, Ph.D., executive vice president for Academic Affairs and provost. "Our journey, marked by compassion and relentless innovation, celebrates how far we've come and sets the stage for a transformative future. Let's draw from our past and continue redefining our future to inspire a healthier world." 

The journey to 200 years has not been without its challenges. In 1886, the largest earthquake ever recorded east of the Appalachian Mountains hit Charleston. Modern seismologists estimate that the 1886 Charleston Earthquake had a magnitude of between 6.7 and 7.7, and it was felt as far as New York City and St. Louis. In total, 83 people died, and numerous others were injured as almost every building, including the Medical College building at Queen and Franklin streets, was left in ruins. 

A little more than 100 years later, Hurricane Hugo battered the Lowcountry with 140 mph winds as a Category 4 hurricane. Despite the raging storm, MUSC staff continued to attend to patients and faculty and helped students and families threatened by flooding. Maintenance staff ensured building safety as electricity faltered, and members of the Facilities team manually turned generator cranks located on rooftops to ensure continued critical and intensive patient care. 

In spite of these challenges, along with many others, MUSC has flourished over 200 years and now stands as the state’s only comprehensive academic health system. Each year, MUSC educates more than 3,200 students in six colleges – Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy – and trains more than 900 residents and fellows in its health system. MUSC brought in more than $300 million in research funds in fiscal year 2023, leading the state overall in research funding. MUSC also leads the state in federal and National Institutes of Health funding. 

As our president frequently says, health care requires constant innovation and teamwork, and our clinical, translational and basic science research enterprise helps to define and deliver state-of-the-art care. MUSC’s purpose, in simplest terms, is to enable the right care, in the right place, at the right time. As such, MUSC has productive health partners or clinical affiliates in all 46 counties in South Carolina and an active research presence in 12. This model benefits patients and local health systems and providers by ensuring the best local care and access to novel treatments, maintaining the viability of local hospitals and elevating the quality of care providers who are trained, recruited and, therefore, more likely to stay in South Carolina. 

Patient care is provided at 16 hospitals (includes owned and governing interest), with approximately 2,700 beds and five additional hospital locations in development; more than 350 telehealth sites; and nearly 750 care locations situated in all regions of South Carolina. In 2023, for the ninth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health University Medical Center in Charleston the No. 1 hospital in South Carolina. The nearly 26,000 MUSC team members include world-class faculty, physicians, specialty providers, scientists, students, affiliates and care team members who deliver and support groundbreaking education, research and patient care. 

Patient care is at the heart of all we do, which demonstrates the importance of and necessity for the highest-quality medical education. Medical education has evolved and progressed tremendously in 200 years: from high school equivalency as a requirement in 1909, admission requirements were strengthened in 1913 to conform to the Council on Medical Education of the American Medical Association. The year 1955 saw the opening of the Medical College of South Carolina’s own hospital, and for the first time, MUSC faculty and students practiced in their own hospital. Kenneth Lynch, M.D., led this effort as the College of Medicine dean and then president of the Medical College, a position he held from 1943 to 1960. 

In the latter half of the 20th century, reorganization at the top level of the University meant that the College of Medicine dean would also serve as the vice president for Medical Affairs. Dean Emeritus of the College of Medicine and Distinguished University Professor Layton McCurdy, M.D., received the first dual appointment in 1990 from former governor and then-MUSC president James B. Edwards, D.M.D. 

Guiding the ship today for the College of Medicine, Dean Terrence E. Steyer, M.D., takes an active and dynamic role in guiding his research and clinical faculty as well as the education of the next generations of doctors. He will oversee the planning and building of the college’s new home while it comes to fruition on campus in 2027. He, at the same time, is continuing to expand graduate medical education opportunities for residents and fellows. 

“I have great appreciation for the rich and storied history that MUSC has,” said Steyer. “I look to the future with excitement and hope for all that we can accomplish for the health and well-being of the citizens of South Carolina and beyond.” 

We invite you to check periodically the Bicentennial website for the latest information on events, activities and schedules.