The 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 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 which was shaded by great trees forming a massive, tent-like canopy over patients enjoying the benefits of fresh outdoor air. But this was in 1901. The Loma Linda property matched the description she had seen in vision, but it was still occupied and not for sale.
Enter John Burden, a young Adventist minister. Believing in Mrs. White's leadership and prophetic gift, he took her request to heart and actively began looking for property in the Southern California area that was aligned with what Mrs. White had seen in vision. In May of 1905, Pastor Burden reported to Mrs. White that he 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 miraculous events, the property was eventually purchased for $38,000.
In her dedicatory address of Loma Linda Sanitarium on April 15, 1906, Mrs. 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 Pastor Burden in December 1905, Mrs. White noted that Loma Linda was not only to train nurses, but physicians as well. "In regard to the school, I would say, make it all you possibly can in the education of nurses and physicians." And in her dedicatory address Mrs. White again emphasized that Loma Linda was to be "not only a sanitarium, but also an educational center."
The fledgling College of Evangelists was soon compelled to confront questions as to its mission and identity. In those early months, it hadn't become clear just what courses should be offered. What about accreditation? Should the institution seek legal recognition as a school of medicine? Or should it seek legal recognition for a class of healer, such as the homeopath, the chiropractor, or the osteopath? Or some eclectic blend of what seemed the best in various healing methodologies? Or should it simply provide instruction for "medical evangelists," even though graduates would have no legal recognition and could not legally practice medicine?
Despite this lack of clarity and definition, the school grew. On December 9, 1909, Pastor 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 for more than half a century 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.
Questions remained as to just what kind of medical training should be offered. But Mrs. White's counsel cleared Pastor Burden's worries through a letter written on January 27, 1910, where she noted that "The medical school at Loma Linda is to be of the highest order." Now there was no question as to the mission of the School of Medicine. At an early 1910 meeting, Arthur G. Daniells, the 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.
To gain the needed ratings from the AMA Council on Medical Education, CME would need 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, 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 became the first step in the clinical division in Los Angeles and would eventually become the White Memorial Hospital complex.
The onset of World War I posed a new threat to medical classes, as only students attending medical schools with the AMA's highest ratings were exempt from being drafted into the arm 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 official Nathan P. Colwell, MD, wrote a letter to CME president Percy T. Magan with the news that CME would be granted 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.
The Great Depression that began in 1929 and extended through much of the 1930s had its effect on Loma Linda. If during the 1920s, Loma Linda reached for the sky, during the 1930s the Depression pulled it rudely back to earth.
In October of 1932, occupancy rates at White Memorial Hospital in Los Angles 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 at Los Angeles had proved to be an ongoing challenge. But America's financial collapse stressed this arrangement to its limit. Two faculties. Two hospitals. Two nurses' training programs. Two sets of buildings.
But despite the widespread financial failure that permeated all of American society, the combination of Divine blessing, workforce sacrifice, and Church support kept Loma Linda afloat—and not just afloat, but actually moving steadily forward.
New buildings were completed at Loma Linda. New construction took place in Los Angeles. The nation's financial outlook improved. Northeast corner of 1913 Loma Linda Hospital, later known as West Hall First graduates with a faculty member Under the auspices of the United States Army, CME in 1926 officially organized the 47th General Hospital. The staff of the 47th included physicians, nurses, physical therapists, and administrative officers. But the need for the 47th grew dormant with peace. However, as the World War II spread across the globe, the 47th was reactivated. All but one of the officers of the 47th General Hospital were Adventists, and about 60 of these were CME graduates.
During the war, the United States War Department virtually commandeered America's medical schools. On July 1, 1943, the war department instituted its "accelerated program" for medical students. In cooperation with this program, CME eliminated summer vacations and started classes every nine months. It compressed its four-year curriculum into three years. During the war, more than 500 CME alumni performed military service for their country. Many received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit, and the Citation for Meritorious Achievement. Some became prisoners of war. Some died in service to their country. At the end of the war, CME not only restored its normal four-year curriculum but began to focus once again on urgent matters on its own two campuses.
As the 1950s closed, CME had grown dramatically and become a far more complex organization. But an unresolved issue still faced the Loma Linda leaders—the divided campus of the School of Medicine.
For decades, Loma Linda 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? The debate intensified. 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 CME's councilors favored Loma Linda. The CME administration and board were split.
After intense and lengthy debate on the consolidation, the board, on September 25, and 26, 1962, voted to consolidate the campuses at Loma Linda. Divided for 48 years, the School of Medicine 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 of 1963, and a 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.
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.