Cary signing

In 1949, the two most established nearby universities that could have been considered for the medical school’s university affiliation were Texas Christian University and Southern Methodist University. But both were struggling to meet their budgets.

There remained a single, but remote possibility – The University of Texas in Austin. Remote because before any such affiliation could be considered, the UT System Board of Regents would first have to submit a request to the state legislature to create a bill authorizing support of a second medical school — the first being The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, which was established in 1891.
In May 1949, however, such a bill was passed. It was announced that the location of the new medical school would follow a review and the recommendation of the House of Delegates of the Texas Medical Association (TMA).

Southwestern Medical Foundation was well-prepared for the opportunity.

After the initial review, El Paso, Dallas, San Antonio and Temple remained.

The Foundation’s final presentation was brief and to the point. It detailed a faculty already in place, a student body at work, laboratories in use, ground-breaking research underway and the transfer of nearly $1.5 million in assets held by the Foundation, including an impressive tract of land on Harry Hines Boulevard, giving the school room to expand.

Some say that behind-the-scenes maneuvering combined with skillful lobbying of the Texas Legislature helped the Foundation’s cause, but in any event, the delegate vote was 79 to 54 in favor of Dallas, which the UT System Board of Regents unanimously accepted. The Foundation completed the donation of land and facilities, certain restricted funds and equipment to the UT System on September 18, 1949, and the newly named Southwestern Medical School of The University of Texas began operations. The Foundation retained monetary assets, wills and similar contributions, to continue operations and fulfill its original mission.

Dallas medical students rejoiced as their tuition was reduced by 80 percent. But beyond that, the benefits of joining the UT System would take several years to materialize.

Technically, the medical school was a statutory branch of the UT System, not a constitutional branch, which meant the school faced the hazard of approaching the legislature for all appropriations. Through 1950, medical school and Foundation efforts to convince the legislature to appropriate money for new construction were denied. To make matters worse, the UT System limited state support to the salary scale of its main university, which set $9,600 as the ceiling for a full professor.

In order to attract a quality faculty, there was no doubt that medical school salaries would need to be supplemented. 

Fortunately, whenever the Foundation was presented with the need for such supplemental funds on no occasion did they fail to provide assistance. Without their support, the task of filling major faculty vacancies — difficult enough on its own — would have been impossible.

Near the end of 1950, a single phone call made to a young doctor at Yale would soon bring the school’s Department of Internal Medicine great acclaim.

In January 1951, Donald Seldin came to Dallas at the urging of Charles Burnett, himself a Harvard-trained endocrinologist and the medical school’s new Chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine. Seldin was a promising researcher in kidney disease at Yale. Burnett told him that he could start his own nephrology program in Dallas. Dr. Seldin was 31, and nowhere in the traditional medical schools in the East could he have been given such an opportunity.

“At Yale, there were so many first-rate faculty members crowded into one section of the department that the chances of my setting up a program of my own or advancing along academic lines were very slim.” 

Seldin agreed to take the position even though he had never been to Dallas.

Though cautioned by his peers, he was highly intrigued with the possibilities.

He drove his wife and infant daughter to Texas from Connecticut. When he got to the corner of Maple and Oak Lawn, he pulled into a filling station and asked the attendant how to get to the medical school. The attendant gestured in the direction of a railroad overpass. Seldin followed the man’s instructions but found nothing but ramshackle military barracks and a lone, dilapidated brick building.

He returned to the filling station and told the attendant what he’d seen.

“That’s it,” the attendant said. “That’s the medical school.”

“It was a hell of a place,” Dr. Seldin would tell people later.

Seen from a fresh perspective, the shacks more than deserved their moniker. Since their completion, water leaks had softened the bond that held the layers of plywood laminate together. The buildings leaned, pushed by the wind. There were holes in the floors that exposed the bare dirt foundation. When it got too cold, experiments had to be canceled or rescheduled because the lab equipment would freeze. Every now and then, a laboratory instrument or a chair leg would punch its way through the floor.

There was, in fact, little to sustain Seldin’s initial enthusiasm. Construction of the new medical school showed no signs of materializing, and plans for a new Parkland Hospital languished.

To make matters worse, in April 1951, Burnett told Seldin that he was considering an offer in North Carolina. A few months later, he left, leaving Dr. Seldin as the only remaining member of the Department of Internal Medicine.

As 1951 continued, momentum slowed further. Movement on a new Parkland Hospital remained in limbo. And planning and budget issues continued to confound further development of the VA hospital.

Toward the end of 1951, Texas Governor Allan Shivers led a delegation from Austin to Dallas to see for himself whether the legislature should appropriate funds for the construction of permanent buildings for the medical school.

A former member of the Department of Pathology recalls: “Students, fellows and faculty were lined up in the shacks to welcome the governor and his entourage. The governor walked in through the back of one the long shacks and as he got halfway down the edifice, a window simply dropped out of the wall. The governor continued walking and another hundred feet later, one of his feet went through the floor. We knew from the look on his face that he was going to help us.”

Over the next few months, the Chairman of Pediatrics left for Rochester, the Chairman of Surgery (and Dean) left for Washington University in St. Louis and the Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology left for the University of Illinois. By the end of 1951, not a single full-time chairman remained in any clinical department. Despite his ambition and initial engagement, the situation gave Seldin pause.

He considered his options: he’d received an offer to return to Yale, another to join Burnett in North Carolina and yet another was in the works from Harvard.

Or he could stay.

Dr. Seldin was offered the chairmanship of Internal Medicine, but declined. Construction of new Parkland Hospital was barely being discussed. The medical school was housed in deteriorating shacks. The school had no dean, since Carl Moyer, who was also Chairman of Surgery, had left for St. Louis.

To Seldin’s surprise, these issues suddenly resolved themselves.

Dr. George Aagaard, a man whom he much admired, was appointed the new dean. Governor Shivers, at a special session of the legislature, released funding for the medical school’s first building. And the county appropriated money through a bond issue to begin construction on a new Parkland Hospital.

Encouraged, Seldin chose to stay. He was made the acting Chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine. A year later the appointment became permanent.

Seldin saw the medical school as an unspoiled opportunity, a place not yet molded by East Coast tradition and convention. In his time at the school, he had also witnessed that Dallas had no shortage of bright and motivated medical students.

Just as Dr. Cary provided the original vision for a great medical center in Dallas, Dr. Seldin came to embody its enthusiasm, style and philosophy. He would go on to become recognized as “one of the dominant intellectual forces in American medicine.”

By February 1952, Dallas-based architects were preparing plans for a 90,000-squarefoot building to house the school’s basic sciences departments. The legislature had specified that the total cost could not exceed the $2.75 million that had been appropriated.

When the lowest construction bid came in $100,000 over budget, Dean Aagaard faced a dilemma. Unless he could raise the difference before the contractor’s deadline for acceptance ended, it would be another six months before the matter could be discussed again.

He called Dr. Cary at six in the morning to ask if the Foundation could provide the additional funds. By 7 a.m., phones all over Dallas had pulled men out of bed to vote “yes.”

In April 1952, Parkland broke ground on the new medical center campus.

Seldin would go on to create a department of clinical scholars second to none. Because money was tight and there was little possibility for bringing in outside talent, he got there by adopting a unique strategy. He selected his best students and residents, sent them off for additional training, and then brought them back to Dallas as faculty members.

He immersed himself in their lives. Students would see him doing rounds at 3 a.m., and when he finished, he would give lectures about what he’d seen. His personal involvement gave him an opportunity to uncover his most exceptional students.

Some he knew held tremendous potential, like Jean Wilson and Joe Goldstein, among many others. He took them aside and explained his vision.

Like Cary, Seldin wanted to create an institution dedicated to research, clinical work and teaching. And importantly, he wanted every member of the faculty to do all three.

He believed conducting research should make you a better doctor, which in turn would help you to frame better questions that could be answered in the lab.

At the time, it was a highly innovative approach to medicine that, interestingly, paralleled Dr. Cary’s views on collaborative medicine.

Dr. Seldin had fortuitously brought his academic vision to Dallas at the beginning of one of the greatest revolutions in biology – a revolution that yielded the structure of the gene, the unraveling of the genetic code and a period that welcomed a new scientific discipline called molecular biology. Molecular biology promised untold dividends in comprehending cellular function and promised countless extensions into molecular medicine and more effective treatment options.

In 1953, the Veteran’s Administration sold land along Harry Hines (which had been intended as the site for its new hospital) to the Foundation. Plans had changed and it was determined that it was more cost effective to remodel VA hospitals at their current locations.

As 1953 came to a close, Dr. Cary passed away, just a year short of learning that the UT System had approved $3.5 million for a permanent building to hold the school’s clinical sciences departments. Along with the approved funding, the medical center’s name was changed to The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.

With Dr. Cary’s passing, tributes from the AMA, Blue Cross, Republic Bank and dozens of other institutions poured in praising the counsel and leadership that Cary had brought to the national healthcare stage. He was hailed as both a local hero and national visionary.

While Dr. Seldin ingeniously and ably steered the direction of the medical school, The University of Texas System and its Board  Regents had stepped solidly into the role of primary financial supporter.

The Foundation stayed the course, growing endowment income for future construction and supplementing the salaries of some of the best and brightest researchers in the country.

A new Parkland Hospital opened in 1954 to high praise, became the exclusive teaching hospital for the medical school and played a key role in attracting top medical talent.

1955 was summed up best by the late John S. Chapman, MD, Professor Emeritus of Internal Medicine and author of the definitive history of medical education in Dallas: “…if one looked at Southwestern as it had staggered along six years earlier, it had thrived mightily.”

However, more — much more — was about to be accomplished.