Healing, Teaching, Growing After 40 Years
On Oct. 28, 1975, the LSU School of Medicine was complete. About 1,000 attended the dedication ceremony and Dr. D.J. Moller, Jr. remembers it well. That year, Dr. Moller was a resident in the medical school but he has a vested interest because he was part of the first class that began in September 1969.
This month, LSU Health Shreveport celebrates the founding of the medical school 40 years ago. But Oct. 28 also will be a celebration of all that’s been accomplished along the way, from training doctors for north Louisiana to providing cutting-edge research for the future. Mostly the last 40 years have been about providing competent, compassionate care for northwest Louisiana, but like anything worthwhile, the journey to have a medical school in our area took time, dedication and perseverance.
The push for a medical school really began in April of 1950 when Dr. W.E. Reid proposed the idea. The plan made it all the way to the state legislature, but was suspended. It would be 13 more years before there was any more serious movement about a new medical school.
In November of 1963 a Medical School Study Committee was formed. Then, in June of 1965, the LSU School of Medicine in Shreveport was created, although there was no funding for construction or operation.
Four years later –– March 1967 –– $20 million was allocated for a 12-story medical school building. The next year, 138 part-time faculty members were appointed. The first class was selected in March of 1969 and started that fall.
The funding to build the school finally came to fruition in August 1970 and there was a groundbreaking ceremony in September 1971. Finally, on Oct. 28, 1975, the Louisiana State University Medical Center School of Medicine was dedicated. It’s that date the medical school is celebrating this month.
When you celebrate an anniversary milestone, you need to do two things –– celebrate the past and look to the future. It’s always important to take time to acknowledge the good work that has been accomplished over the years. But, to honor that good work, you must set a path that keeps the standard of excellence because you are either moving forward or moving backward.
Dr. Moller epitomizes the journey that began so long ago. Not only was he part of the first class at the medical school, he was the first medical student in line to register for class. His adrenaline was flowing because he knew just how special it was that he was one of 32 selected to be in that first group of medical students.
“We were proud to be included in that first class,” Moller said. “I wanted to be the first one to sign up before they changed their mind.” At the time, there wasn’t a medical school, per se. The classrooms were at the Veteran Administration hospital.
Officially, Dr. Moller goes by D.J., but everyone calls him Dan. That’s because Dan fits him better. Being professional certainly counts for him, but being a nurturing, caring doctor is far more important.
Like so many doctors, his path to medical school began in his family.
“My aunt had polio in 1952,” Dr. Moller said. “She was my godmother. My grandmother took care of her for 30-something years. I was spending the night with my aunt the night the doctor came to the house to diagnose her polio. I was age five. My initial reason to be a doctor was to help her.”
The timing was such that the medical school in Shreveport was opening in 1969. Dr. Moller had a choice to go to medical school in New Orleans or Shreveport. He chose Shreveport.
“I became evangelical about primary care,” he said. “Toward the end of medical school, I became more committed to taking care of people, instead of working in a sub specialty. I did not want to do just one organ system. I preferred the interaction and the longitudinal care of patients. I didn’t appreciate how important that was until I graduated and got out and did it. Going on 40 years, having taken care of people, and then their kids, it’s so rewarding.”
Dr. Moller is the classic American story –– a deep desire and passion, combined with a determined work ethic. “I worked my way through college and medical school. I had one, two jobs or three jobs at a time. [Jim] Elrod made a job for me in the emergency room when I was a sophomore.”
From Dr. Moller’s perspective, the physicians in Shreveport really caused the medical school to happen. The idea, he pointed out, was to train doctors for north Louisiana. The announced goal early on was for primary care. Most of the faculty were doctors for this area. There was a handful of medical school faculty, but many of the teachers were local physicians. The first class was a close-knit group –– 31 men and one woman.
“All 32 students in that first class lived at the Linwood Apartments,” Dr. Moller said. “We were selected a year before we gathered for the first class. On our first day of medical school, Dr. Edgar Hall addressed the class. At the time, he was in his early 80s. He chain smoked Pall Mall cigarettes. He was the premier internist in Shreveport. That’s why he was chosen to run the school.”
Usually, that first speech is predictable. The dean stands before the students and says something like, “look to your left and look to your right because one of the three of you aren’t going to make it to graduation.”
Not Dr. Hall. “I want you all to know there will be no attrition in this class,” Dr. Moller said, quoting Dr. Hall. “Everyone here has been hand-picked and everyone here will graduate. There is no reason for anyone to fail.”
Just because that first group was hand picked, didn’t mean they could relax. Every one of them understood their responsibility. They were chosen, and they had to live up to that high standard. If they proved to be the best, that would set the new medical school on a positive trajectory.
“We received an excellent education,” Dr. Moller said. “We were ingrained with taking good care of people. All of us had a Judeo-Christian attitude about doing the right thing and taking care of people. We all tried to live up to that standard.”
Dr. Moller has been practicing medicine now for almost 40 years. He very much enjoys the work. “I’m still evolving, but I’ve always tried to treat all my patients like family. I was with Highland Clinic for 20 years. Now I’ve been with Willis-Knighton Health System for 20 years. Mr. Elrod wanted me to help build Pierremont [hospital]. I now serve as director of the Willis-Knighton hospital system. I’m chief medical officer of the hospital system.”
Like everyone that graduated in that first class, Dr. Moller has a deep fondness and commitment to the LSU Health Shreveport.
“The medical school is integral to the well being of our community,” he said. “The school has far reaching implications. Health care in general, along with Barksdale Air Force Base and oil and gas, is the three-legged stool that fuels our community.”
Dr. Robert Barish, chancellor of LSU Health Shreveport, understands that he has to roll up his sleeves and bring his lunch bucket to work every day. There’s a lot of equity sweat that’s been poured into the foundation of the medical school, and he has to make sure LSU Health Shreveport gets better each and every year.
“We are a gift to the community,” Dr. Barish said. “ It’s a source of unbelievable intellectual capital. In the beginning, there was amazing vision. The people who had the vision should be congratulated. They persevered.”
Dr. John Marymont, dean, feels the same. “This is like having an NFL franchise. Not every city has an NFL football team and not every city has a medical school,” he said. “There are only about 140 medical schools in the United States. Actually, the school of medicine is for all of north Louisiana.”
At LSU Health Shreveport, the mission is to heal, teach and discover. You could add one more caveat to that list –– service. There is one additional major benefit of having a medical school in our region. The doctors that train here typically stay in our area.
“What I want to do as chancellor, and what Dr. Marymont wants to do as dean, is grow the school,” Dr. Barish said. “This year we had the largest class in the history of the medical school –– 127 students. We hope to take the school from 127 to 150. And this year we had more than 1,200 applicants. It’s remarkable.”
The faculty at the medical school comes from across the United States. Several doctors at LSU Health Shreveport have worldwide reputations for being the best in their disciplines. And more than 800 local physicians volunteer their time to teach at the medical school.
“Our school is able to attract a lot of specialists,” Dr. Marymont said. “People who want to be involved with teaching, research and clinical care. They want to drive new innovation, new techniques. It all comes with an academic medical center.”
“We have this great mission of care for all,” Dr. Barish said.
What about the current crop of medical school students? How do they view their role and education in the 21st century?
Sarah Bundrick and Arthur Grimes are two fourth-year students who have found success and appreciate the opportunities they have been given at the medical school. They are looking forward to graduation on May 28, 2016.
“The faculty values everyone being part of the team, they value experience,” said Bundrick, who plans to be an OB/GYN doctor. “It’s been a unique experience. In my third year of medical school, I delivered two or three babies by myself. There was a doctor with me, but it’s something most schools wouldn’t do. I loved it. The faculty has been amazing.”
She is from Rochester, Minn., but knew this area well even before she began medical school. Her father, Dr. John Bundrick, is from this area and her grandmother still lives here. Her mother, Suzanne, was in nursing school here when she met her future husband.
“There’s something to be said about the community of the south,”Bundrick said. “It’s unlike anywhere else in the country. It’s about hospitality and warmth, as well as being there for one another other.”
Grimes, who wants to be a surgeon, is another example of someone with deep roots in northwest Louisiana. He graduated from Byrd High School and Louisiana Tech University before applying for medical school here. In fact, LSU Health Shreveport was the only school on his radar. His dad, Dr. Reid Grimes, practices medicine locally.
“I grew up watching my dad do surgery,” Grimes said. “The faculty is willing to do a lot of one-on-one interaction with students. This has been a perfect fit for me. It certainly has set me up for success.”
Bundrick and Grimes found one other benefit of attending medical school here –– they plan to marry two weeks before graduation.
LSU Health Shreveport will have a lot to celebrate on Oct. 28, from Dr. Dan Moller in that first class so long ago, to the excellence of the present day that’s reflected in students like Sarah Bundrick and Arthur Grimes.
Major Milestones in Medical School History
• 1950 — A medical school in Shreveport is first proposed, moves quickly through legislature and is ignored by Gov. Earl K. Long
• 1955 — Gov. Robert Kennon signs act appropriating construction funds for postgraduate school to train resident staff and physicians and designed to support a future medical school
• 1958 — Gov. Earl Long withdraws funding for the medical school
• 1963 — Study Committee established for development of medical school, chaired by Dr. Joe E. Holoubek
• 1965 — Gov. John McKeithen signs an act formally establishing the School of Medicine and School of Graduate Studies in Shreveport
• 1969 — New School of Medicine enrolls its first 32 students, with classes held at Veterans Administration Hospital while awaiting funding for school construction
• 1971 — Crowd of 500 attend Medical School groundbreaking
• 1973 — School receives full accreditation and confers its first medical degrees
• 1975 — Four years, one month and 11 days after groundbreaking, the $30.8 million LSU School of Medicine is dedicated with nearly 1,000 in attendance
• 1976 — Confederate Memorial Medical Center and the School of Medicine merge and legislature transfers control of the hospital from the state charity hospital system to LSU, creating the first teaching hospital
• 1977 — School of Allied Health Professions established
• 2000 — John C. McDonald named first chancellor after an act by the legislature, culminating a 20-year battle for autonomy and financial independence
• 2014 — School of Medicine enrolls largest class ever, 125 students, as part of a plan to grow by 25 percent over 10-year period
LSU Health Shreveport By the Numbers
Medicine — 480
Grad Studies — 79
Allied Health — 335
608 Residents & Fellows in training in 39 accredited programs
Facts about the School of Medicine’s newest class, the Class of 2019
Total students — 126
Applications — 1,241
Interviewed — 253
$521 Million – Direct
$24 Million — Tax Impact
1,858 Faculty & Staff
4,242 Jobs Supported
School of Medicine — 3,862
School of Graduate Studies — 436
School of Allied Health Professions —2,948