it’s been 150 years saving lives

We remember the history of the institution that has helped, in one way or another, all those who have passed through a clinic in the department.

It was 1891, late 19th century, and the governor Pedro Justo Berrio I wanted to implement ambitious changes to modernize the department. He promoted the construction of the train and also improved education by transforming the State College, founded under the influence of the viceroyalty, into the University of Antioquia, says the UPB professor, Reinaldo Spitalleta. The careers that began included the School of Medicine, which would later be called the Faculty and that this October 6 celebrates 150 years since its foundation.

Early years

The first curriculum included subjects such as anatomy, physiology, pathology, botany … It lasted four years, that is, eight semesters, about five less than in the current one.

They began classes in the cloister of San Ignacio, today Comfama, and carried out practices at the San Juan de Dios Hospital and at the San Lorenzo Cemetery, as the current dean of the faculty tells us, Carlos Alberto Palacio Acosta.

One of the first medical photographs taken in Antioquia, Lecciones de Anatomía (1892), by Melitón Rodríguez, a reference to Rembrand’s painting of the same name and presents a similar scene: a handful of students examining a mangled corpse on the wooden table, none of them look at the camera, some are bearded, others have a mustache, only one hat, they wear aprons cloth and suit underneath.

The scene is presented in an open space, in the cemetery vaults, says Palacio, who admits that it is one of his favorite photographs because it shows the evolution of the department’s school and medicine.

Although these were not the first generation of medical students, it is very likely that the seventeen students with whom he began his career, all from Antioquia, received the same instruction at first.

According to the book Escuela de Medicina de la U. de Antioquia, Science and Presence in History 1871-2016 of Tiberio Álvarez Echeverri only six students managed to graduate: Ramón Arango Arango, Tomás José Bernal Mejía, Jesús María Espinoza, Alejandro R. Fernández Avendaño, Julio Restrepo Arango and Francisco Velasquez.

The city

Stop for a moment to consider what Medellín was like 150 years ago. The first constitution in the country had been signed 50 years ago, the city became the capital of Antioquia five years later and was far from being what it is now.

Municipalities such as Envigado, Bello and Itagüí, which today seem like an annex, were distant towns, even Belén was a village, still distant and El Poblado was only farms.

Education in the department was 70 years old, explains Spitalleta, but it did not cover many areas, so those interested, and with the monetary capacity to learn, had to move to cities such as Bogotá or Popayán, or leave the country. Those who practiced medicine were foreigners from France, as mentioned in Álvarez’s book.

french academy

The first model that was taken for medical school was precisely the French, the most popular, says Palacio, hence many of the first graduates who sought to specialize traveled to that country.

The French influence can be seen in the distribution of spaces: “The hospital buildings had pavilions, linked by galleries to a central courtyard, and high-ceilinged, airy hospital rooms with capacity for 30 beds,” says Álvarez’s book.

In addition, Palacio says, it was a reactionary medicine, which was in charge of detecting the symptoms of patients in order to treat them.

The doctors became a kind of magicians who cured diseases throughout Antioquia and in this way they became very loved people in society and with good pay, says Spitaletta. In this way studying medicine became one of the leading careers, as happened before with priests or lawyers.

New headquarters

110 years ago, the city was going through a moment of textile boom led by the Echavarría family and their Coltejer. In an act of philanthropy they created the Hospital de la Caridad, today San Vicente, and gave it some nearby land for its expansion. It was then that the university decided to move the faculty so that it was close to the doctors, says Palacio. The lot is bought from the hospital and the designs are contracted to a Belgian architect who had come to the city, Agustín Goovarts, who also designed the National Palace and the Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture.

His original idea was four blocks, one at each corner, with an open park in the center. However, there was only a budget for two blocks, “the ones we call historic, because they are the country’s architectural and cultural heritage,” says Palacio. One is named, in commemoration, of Manuel Uribe Angel, one of the promoters of the foundation of the faculty and of its first teachers, and the other pays tribute to Andres Posada Arango, teacher on the faculty in areas of natural sciences, botany and pharmacy.

American Academy

The next change in the faculty infrastructure was in 1949 “when Ignacio Velez Escobar, being dean, he warns that space is not enough and builds what today we call the central building, which has a different design ”, less aesthetic and closer to the US academy.

Vélez understood that it was necessary to renew education and, taking advantage of a series of scholarships and agreements, he managed to send several professors to be trained in the United States, in basic clinical-surgical areas, divided into departments in which he was deepening.

New departments

In 1942 the first three women entered the faculty, only one of them managed to graduate, Clara Glottman, who later obtained a scholarship to specialize as a gynecologist and endocrinologist and returned to practice as a teacher.

A personal friend and colleague of his would carry out this same scheme, only he would specialize in Public Health: Hector Abad Gómez.

According to his son, the writer Hector Abad Faciolince in The forgetfulness that we will be and the book One Hundred Lives to Tell by the journalist Juan Jose Hoyos, Abad Gómez was one of the first people who was concerned about public health.

Abad Gómez carried out the first studies of the consequences of contaminated water on the development of children from marginal neighborhoods, comparing them directly with his son and demanding better conditions from rulers.

Finally, Hector Abad Gómez He was assassinated in 1987 and in commemoration of him the National School of Public Health, which he helped found in 1964, bears his name.

Daughter faculties

Public Health was not the only daughter of the School of Medicine. “The school of microbiology and dentistry was born there, as well as the first efforts in nursing, surgical instrumentation, and nutrition and dietetics,” says Palacio.

Likewise, after being for 100 years as the only medical school in the city, it is also “the origin of others in the country, because it was professors who came from here who constituted those of Bolivariana and Ces, for example. Even the Industrial University of Santander created its Faculty of Medicine, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, from our professors and graduates ”.

University today

In 150 years of history, the faculty has led, with resources, human talent or research, great medical achievements in the city and the country. Palacio says that “the first cesarean section in Latin America was performed here, the first surgical procedure in our region and the first anesthesia machine arrived, which was also the first time it was applied to patients.

In addition, together with the San Vicente hospital, the first kidney transplant was performed in Colombia, the first radiological examinations and the first electrocardiographic ones ”.

The faculty does not stop: it has 46 surgical specialties, works on more than 120 research projects, there is a clinical doctorate, four master’s degrees and a digital hospital to train future generations


it was the number of students who graduated in the first generation.


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