Then & Now
2021 marks a milestone year for the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, providing an opportunity to reflect on the incredible journey that has brought the school to the present moment. In 1951, UCLA was a burgeoning new university and had just named its first chancellor when the medical school was born. The inaugural medical school class consisted of 28 students, who attended courses in the old Religious Conference Building on Le Conte Avenue. By the time they graduated in 1955, the medical school had experienced tremendous growth. From humble beginnings it has risen to become the youngest top medical school in the nation.
“The birth of the medical school signaled what we, together, can do to improve the health of our communities and the world,” says Dr. Clarence H. Braddock III, executive vice dean for education and Maxine and Eugene Rosenfeld Endowed Chair in Medical Education. “Our first community members sparked the spirit of innovation and discovery that we carry to this day. We are proud to celebrate this monumental journey.”
Here Are Just a Few of the Contributions, Breakthroughs, People and Milestones That Have Shaped the David Geffen School of Medicine into the Leading Institution It Is Today.
Classes began on September 20, 1951, for the medical school’s first students — two women and 26 men — taught by 15 faculty members. Since it took several years to build the new school, scientists conducted research in Quonset huts scattered across the campus that had been used as temporary housing during World War II.
Dr. Paul Terasaki (PhD ’56) developed the tissue-matching test that paired organ-transplant recipients with compatible donors and transformed the field of organ transplantation. The test is still the international standard for tissue typing.
Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in South L.A. and the UCLA School of Medicine established the Charles R. Drew/ UCLA Medical Education Program to train health care leaders to advance humanistic health in under-resourced communities.
UCLA physicians reported and described the first cases of AIDS, a discovery that led to the formation of the UCLA AIDS Institute and the school’s standing as a world leader in AIDS research.
UCLA ophthalmologic surgeon Dr. Patricia E. Bath invented the Laserphaco Probe, a device and technique that ushered in the laser era of cataract surgery. She was the first Black woman to receive a medical patent and the first woman to serve on the UCLA Stein Eye Institute faculty.
Dr. Dennis J. Slamon (FEL ’82), Bowyer Professor of Medical Oncology, identified the HER2/neu oncogene, which led to the development of the breast-cancer drug Herceptin. By targeting a specific genetic alteration, this precision medicine breakthrough helped save the lives of millions of women.
Entertainment executive and philanthropist David Geffen donated $200 million to the medical school. At the time, it was the largest single gift to a school of medicine in U.S. history. The unrestricted gift helped propel the school, which was renamed in his honor, to its current status as a world-class institution for education and research.
Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei, opened its doors on June 29, 2008, replacing the Center for Health Sciences, which was structurally weakened by the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
David Geffen gave $100 million to establish the David Geffen Medical Scholarships, enabling approximately 25% of UCLA medical students to graduate debt-free. In 2019, he gave an additional $46 million, opening the door for 120 additional students to benefit from the scholarships.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, UCLA medical students rose to the occasion and formed the LA COVID Volunteers, providing free child care, grocery runs and personal protective equipment to essential workers and their families. They also delivered more than 50,000 face shields to UCLA Health and community partners in need.