In 1963 East Tennessee State University President Burgin E. Dossett, Dean John P. Lamb, Charles E. Allen, M.D., and various civic leaders and legislators called attention to the need for a regional health center in Upper East Tennessee. When Dossett retired in 1968, he and his associates were ready to implement their plans, but the hard work was left to his successor, Delos P. Culp, who enthusiastically and skillfully worked with local committees and legislators. Four years later, the group asked the general assembly to appoint a joint committee to negotiate with the Veterans Administration to establish a medical school in cooperation with the Mountain Home Hospital adjacent to the university campus.
Formidable opponents, led by Governor Winfield Dunn and friends of the University of Tennessee, marshaled their forces. The climax came in February and March 1974, when Dunn and seven members of the governing Board of Regents voted eight to seven to kill a proposal for a freestanding medical school. When Culp informed the governor that supporters of the medical school would continue their work, Dunn considered removing the president from office; he changed his mind after being warned against alienating Republicans in northeast Tennessee, however. In the legislature, Representatives Palma Robinson and Robert Good and Senator Marshall Nave worked to gain support for the school. With the help of Speakers Ned R. McWherter and John S. Wilder, the bill to establish the medical school passed. Dunn vetoed the bill, but both houses overrode the veto.
The next step involved qualifying for federal funds under the Teague-Cranston Act. U.S. Representative James Quillen helped to secure grants, which assured the Liaison Committee on Medical Education that ETSU would meet the standards for accreditation. The letter of assurance arrived on June 20, 1977, Culp’s last day in office. Full accreditation came when the first class graduated in 1982.
In the fall of 1978, 24 students chosen from 255 applicants enrolled in ETSU College of Medicine and met their 62 professors. Four years later 23 received their degrees; the twenty-fourth had dropped out because of illness but graduated in 1984. In 1996, 60 first-year students were selected from over 2,000 applicants; total enrollment is limited to 240 students. The full-time medical faculty consists of 185 professors. In almost two decades, 750 medical degrees and 50 doctorates have been awarded, and 560 medical doctors have completed residency programs. Four endowed chairs include the Cecille Cox Quillen Chair in Gerontology, the Carol Hardy Long Chair of Surgical Research, the Paul Dishner Chair of Medicine, and the Lee Ann Brown Group Chair in General Pediatrics. In 1989 regents acknowledged and honored Congressman Quillen for his political and financial support by renaming the institution the Quillen College of Medicine.
In 1988 the colleges of medicine, nursing, and public and allied health were brought together in the Division of Health Sciences. Two years later they received a six-million-dollar grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to develop centers for primary care in local communities where such services had never been available. The programs also made it possible for students majoring in public health, nursing, and medicine to work as teams in caring for patients.
The Division of the Health Sciences brought industries and businesses related to health care to Upper East Tennessee. In 1994 they provided 13,000 full-time jobs in Washington County alone and put $771 million into circulation.
Researchers anticipate that people living in the early decades of the twenty-first century will be better served by family practitioners than by specialists. The Quillen College of Medicine ranks eighth among 126 medical schools whose graduates enter family practice; the faculty is working to become one of the five leaders in this field. Another goal is the development of model allied health programs. A third goal focuses on working in conjunction with ETSU, the Veterans Administration, regional hospitals, and related industries to become a major force in the economic development of the region.