American History Alive and Well at UCSF

Santorum, Maddow and Colbert are Wrong About UCSF

By Jason Bardi

One of the world’s leading health sciences universities, UCSF dates its founding to 1864, when South Carolina surgeon Hugh Toland founded a private medical school in San Francisco. Above, nurses stand inside an operating room at UC Hospital in 1913.

Let the record reflect: American history is indeed taught at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

After presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently stated that American history was no longer offered at most UC campuses, reporters at several media outlets were quick to set the record straight. Several, including television hosts Rachel Maddow and Steven Colbert, pointed out that only one UC campus does not teach history — UCSF.


They got it wrong, too.

When UCSF history professor Dorothy Porter, PhD, heard MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow’s story on Tuesday night, she couldn’t react quickly enough.

“I know that Rachel likes to get her facts absolutely correct, so I sent off an email as soon as I could find an address for the show,” Porter said. Her message, reinforced by other UCSF history professors reached for comment this week, was simple: history is alive and well at UCSF.

The History of History at UCSF

History classes at UCSF have been around since the Great Depression, first taught to aspiring medical students in 1930. The university has offered degrees in history since the civil rights era, minting the PhD program in the History of Health Sciences in 1965.

Today both Master’s and doctoral degrees in the subject are offered through the university’s Department of Anthropology, History & Social Medicine. UCSF is, in fact, the only campus within the entire UC system that offers a doctoral degree in the history of the health sciences. Its scholars focus on both American and world history and contribute to our understanding of the conditions that make modern medicine what it is today.

 Brian Dolan, PhD

Brian Dolan, PhD

“In our graduate programs, American history is not only taught — it is required,” said Brian Dolan, PhD, professor and vice chair of the department and the director of the graduate programs in history of health sciences.

Elective courses are available for the entire student body at UCSF's four professional schools, whether in medicine, pharmacy, nursing, or dentistry.

These courses offer a rich exploration of some of the key social, cultural, economic, and political contexts of American and world history — the development of medical science and technology in America, the development of the medical profession in the United States, and the history of therapies developed in America. Specialized courses include psychiatry in the United States, the history of American medicine, 20th century American medicine, and the history of social movements in America.

Scientists work in the biomechanics laboratory at UCSF.

Scientists work in the biomechanics laboratory at UCSF.

"Historical understanding of both scientific and health care breakthroughs and mistakes can provide enormous benefit to the health science and care that we are doing today," said Nancy Milliken, MD, vice dean of the UCSF School of Medicine, director of the UCSF Center of Excellence in Women's Health and acting chair of the Department of Anthropology, History & Social Medicine.

"Informed by this perspective,” she added, “our students can be better prepared to advance health worldwide and contribute to collaborative science and systems of care.”

Related Links:

History of Medicine and Health Sciences Program at UCSF

UCSF Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine

A History of UCSF