he beginnings of Loma Linda University School of Medicine date back to 1901, four years before the official founding of what began as the College of Medical Evangelists. In 1901 Ellen White, one of the founders of Loma Linda University, described property she had seen in a vision on which the Seventh-day Adventist Church would build a medical institution. She saw ground that was shaded by great trees forming a massive, tentlike canopy over patients enjoying the benefits of fresh, outdoor air.
Enter John Burden, a young Adventist minister. Believing in Ellen White’s leadership and prophetic gift, he took her request to build a medical institution to heart and actively began looking for property in the southern California area that was aligned with what Ellen White had seen in vision. In May 1905, Burden reported to Ellen White that he had found a tract of 76 acres a few miles west of Redlands that appeared to match her description. The property was for sale at the seemingly unreachable price of $110,000. Through a series of providential events, it was eventually purchased for $38,900.
In her dedicatory address for Loma Linda Sanitarium on April 15, 1906, Ellen White stated that the institution was to make a major contribution to the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church by becoming a training center for students who would participate in the church’s worldwide outreach.
Writing to Burden in December 1905, Ellen White noted that the College of Medical Evangelists was not only to train nurses but physicians, as well: “In regard to the school,” she wrote, “I would say, make it all you possibly can in the education of nurses and physicians.” And in her dedicatory address Ellen White again emphasized that the institution was to be “not only a sanitarium, but also an educational center.”
The fledgling College of Medical Evangelists grew. On December 9, 1909, Burden and other school leaders obtained a charter from the state of California to operate under the new name of College of Medical Evangelists (CME)—the name by which the institution would be known until 1961.
The College of Medical Evangelists was fully authorized to “establish and maintain, carry on and conduct literary, scientific, medical, dental, pharmaceutical, and medical missionary colleges or seminaries of learning.” It could grant degrees in liberal arts and sciences, dentistry, and medicine.
Through a letter written on January 27, 1910, Ellen White noted, “The medical school at Loma Linda is to be of the highest order.” At an early 1910 meeting, Arthur G. Daniells, president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, responded: “We shall now take hold of this enterprise and do the best we can to assist in carrying it forward.” In May of that year, the college and the sanitarium became one corporation.
To gain the needed ratings from the AMA Council on Medical Education, CME would have to provide its medical students appropriate clinical training and experience. On January 28, 1913, construction of a new hospital at Loma Linda was approved. Meanwhile, a study focused on the possibility of locating a clinic in Los Angeles to provide clinical experience during the final two years of medical training. CME opened a dispensary in Los Angeles that would eventually become the White Memorial Hospital complex.
In the Nick of Time
The onset of World War I posed a new threat to medical classes, because only students attending medical schools with the AMA’s highest ratings were exempt from being drafted into the armed services. But in February 3, 1918, the AMA awarded CME its second-highest rating—a “B”—just in time to prevent classes from being emptied of their young men.
Finally, on November 14, 1922, American Medical Association granted the institution a “class A” rating. CME was now the only “class A” medical school in southern California. Not only did it ensure the continuing deferment of CME students from active military service but also qualified graduates to take state board examinations anywhere in the United States.
Pulled Back to Earth
The Great Depression that began in 1929 and extended through much of the 1930s had its effect on CME.
In October 1932, occupancy rates at White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles plummeted to only 50 patients—the lowest-ever patient census. In response, physicians often accepted eggs, flour, chickens, groceries, and other goods as payment for services. Even prior to the Depression, maintaining a divided campus at Loma Linda and in Los Angeles had proved to be an ongoing challenge: two hospitals, two nurses’ training programs, two sets of buildings. America’s financial collapse stressed this arrangement to its limit.
But despite the widespread financial failure that permeated all American society, the combination of divine blessing, workforce sacrifice, and church support kept CME afloat—and not just afloat, but moving steadily forward.
New buildings were completed at CME. New construction took place in Los Angeles. The nation’s financial outlook improved.
By the time the 1950s closed, CME had grown dramatically and become a far more complex organization. But an unresolved issue still faced the institution’s leaders—the divided campus of the School of Medicine.
Uniting a Divided Campus
For decades CME administrators wrestled with problems inherent in maintaining dual campuses—costly duplication of administrative functions, teaching facilities, equipment, libraries, and curriculum—to say nothing about the time involved in travel between the two locations.
Following a 1958 evaluation, accrediting officials, instead of recommending consolidation, as it had done many times before, now required it. In 1959 CME was the only medical school in America operating on two campuses.
No longer could a decision be deferred. Consolidation was imperative. But where? Not surprisingly, the basic sciences faculty in Loma Linda favored Loma Linda—and the clinical faculty in Los Angeles favored Los Angeles. The church constituency and a majority of School of Medicine councilors favored Loma Linda. The School of Medicine administration and board were split.
After intense and lengthy debate about the consolidation, the board, on September 25 and 26, 1962, voted to consolidate the campuses at Loma Linda. Divided for 48 years, the College of Medical Evangelists was now united on one campus. Once the decision to consolidate had been made, one of the most urgent needs was to develop at Loma Linda a new medical facility. A general design plan was approved in May 1963, and one year later, on June 7, 1964, groundbreaking ceremonies for the new complex took place. The last concrete was poured on January 25, 1966, and the completed Loma Linda University Hospital (renamed Loma Linda University Medical Center on September 14, 1970) was occupied on July 9, 1967.
Looking to the Future
More years have passed—years that have brought Loma Linda University School of Medicine not only to its centennial year but propelled it, by its unwavering mission, into a future aglow with the promise of new opportunities for service—for as long as time on earth continues.
Richard W. Weismeyer, M.A., is director of Loma Linda University’s office of University Relations. This article was published April 22, 2010.