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viernes, 28 de enero 2022
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From Manuel Uribe Angel to a Digital Hospital: 150 Years of the Faculty of Medicine!

By: Johansson Cruz Lopera - Journalist

In these 150 years of history, the legacy that the Faculty of Medicine has left at Universidad de Antioquia is invaluable in social, cultural, intellectual and scientific terms. The Faculty of Medicine has given rise to other faculties, and a large number of university presidents were trained in its classrooms. Through its corridors have walked great humanists, men and women, who have marked the future of the university. 

Portrait of Dr. Manuel Uribe Ángel taken in 1899 by Melitón Rodríguez. Photo: courtesy of the MUUA History Collection photographic archive.

In November 1875, an invitation circulated in the city of Medellín to attend, on the 4th of that month, the graduation ceremony —which was also the presentation of the thesis— of the first physician sworn in in Antioquia: Dr. Jesús María Espinoza, a native of Abejorral, where he returned after obtaining his degree and practiced until the end of his life. 

That month, two more doctors graduated: Tomás José Bernal and Julio Restrepo, and in January 1876, the group of the first six students to obtain the degree of the nascent School of Medicine of the newly named Universidad de Antioquia was completed: Ramón Arango, Alejandro Fernández and Francisco Velásquez.

The first group of medical students, which began classes in February 1872 after Pedro Justo Berrío, then president of the Sovereign State of Antioquia, signed the decree of December 14, 1871, which gave life to UdeA’s School of Medicine. The group consisted of 17 young men who began the courses of anatomy, physics, physiology and pathology. The youngest was 15 years old, and his name was Daniel Uribe. The oldest was Jesús María Isaza, who was 22. 

"There were some very enthusiastic and enterprising people who decided that it was time for the region to have medical training. This is how the School of Medicine began to take shape in our university. It was very much based on the French training, that is, on the study of anatomy", said Carlos Alberto Palacio, dean of UdeA’s Faculty of Medicine. 

This group of great humanists, among which doctors Paulino Flórez Arteaga, Pedro Herrán, Andrés Posada Arango and Justiniano Montoya Ochoa stand out, gave birth to what today is already 150 years old. They started with very little: the books they had brought from their training in France. In fact, the first library that the faculty had was a trunk of books on various subjects, not only medical, which Dr. Manuel Uribe Angel kept under his bed. He is considered the "father of medicine in Antioquia" and the greatest exponent of that group of notables. 

"I could hardly say that our situation in this respect is satisfactory. We lack an anatomical amphitheater, we have no surgical pavilion, there is a complete absence of libraries", wrote Uribe Angel in 1881 in his text La medicina en Antioquia (Medicine in Antioquia), but he also knew that something important was germinating there. "What has been done so far in the state of Antioquia concerning medical studies is good and useful, it is honorable and promising", he concluded.

From the French School to the American Model 

The transition from the 19th to the 20th century was not an easy one for the country in general. A series of civil wars caused chaos in the capitals, and the educational centers became transit sites for the armies of the time. UdeA was no stranger to these forces, and the political tide caused some havoc. In 1905, the Faculty of Medicine closed its doors. University President Tulio Ospina ordered that the university turn into a technical institute. That whim lasted until 1910 when it reopened its doors. 

While all this was happening, the illustrious characters that made up the teaching staff of the faculty were writing memorable pages in the history of medicine in the department. In 1903, Dr. Juan Bautista Montoya y Flórez inaugurated the first operating room of the city in the old Hospital San Juan de Dios, home of the students who aspired to become doctors. 

In 1901, against the backdrop of the Thousand Days War, Dr. Montoya himself had taken the first X-ray in the country. The motif of that first image may well represent the social turbulence of the first half of the 20th century: a bullet. 

"He presented a beautiful X-ray of the hand of someone who had received a bullet in the ring finger, The bullet had split into three fragments, says the minutes of April 12, 1902, of the Academy of Medicine of Medellin. 

During the first half of the 20th century, and faithful to its beginnings, the Faculty of Medicine taught and practiced the lessons of the French model. Its most respected teachers and students, who after graduating traveled to further their studies, returned to the country to pass on what they had learned. 

"The French practice was based on the so-called observational medicine, that is, the careful identification of symptoms and the comparison of findings with similar observations, so that the value and meaning of each symptom could be deduced naturally", wrote anesthesiologist and university professor Tiberio Álvarez Echeverri in the book Escuela de Medicina de la Universidad de Antioquia, ciencia y presencia en la historia: 1871-2016 (School of Medicine of Universidad de Antioquia, Science and Presence in History: 1871-2016). 

In the mid-20th century, scientific and technological advances provided physicians and surgeons with more information to diagnose diseases and, in turn, plan treatments. The amount of information and requirements changed the teaching of medicine. "The education of medical practitioners under these changed conditions imposes completely different demands concerning training, both preliminary and professional", said physician and Faculty of Medicine professor Adolfo Gonzalez Rodriguez. 

The American educator Abraham Flexner foresaw this situation and introduced a paradigm shift in the teaching of medicine in his country. Unsuspectingly, the Flexnerian model became popular as a consequence of the difficulty in accessing books and materials and traveling to the French capital during World War II, which put an end to the romantic Parisian dream, especially of Latin American physicians, of furthering their knowledge in Europe. Their gaze turned, then, towards the United States. 

"Ignacio Vélez Escobar was a very visionary man. When he was dean of the faculty in the 50s, he realized what was happening in the world and, thanks to the Rockefeller and Kellogg foundations, sent many professors to the United States to study at the University of Michigan", said Carlos Palacio.  

Seventy specialized physicians constituted the body of the "Michiganists", a name used by the old professors of the Faculty of Medicine, defenders of the French medical culture, to refer in a derogatory way to the teachers who returned from the United States. These managed to make medicine in Antioquia more scientific and pragmatic, according to data from Tiberio Álvarez as reported in the book Enciclopedia Inacabada: Facultad de Medicina 1871-2021 (Unfinished Encyclopedia: Faculty of Medicine 1871-2021). 


Facade of the Faculty of Medicine taken by Diego García (Digar) in 1966. Photo: courtesy of the MUUA History Collection photographic archive.

Vélez Escobar and Abad Gómez, Two Epoch-Making Men

In 1941, while strolling down Junin Street, a young Héctor Abad Gómez met his friend Clara Glottman and took the opportunity to tell her the good news: He had passed the entrance exam to the Faculty of Medicine at UdeA. A couple of months earlier, she had spoken to Dean Alonso Restrepo and asked him whether there were any restrictions for a woman to take the test. "There is no prohibition", replied the dean without imagining that, six years later, Clara would be the first woman physician in the department. Up to 1947, 486 male doctors had graduated. 

By that time, the School of Medicine was already located in its current headquarters, adjacent to the Hospital San Vicente de Paul, which was inaugurated in 1934 with two buildings. They were named Manuel Uribe Angel and Andres Posada Arango and were later declared assets of National Cultural Interest by the Ministry of Culture. In 1949, the central building was opened, which solved the need to increase the number of students. 

In the second half of the 20th century, two fundamental characters of this story both for the faculty and the university walked the corridors of the School of Medicine. Thanks to the management of Ignacio Vélez Escobar, who was dean of the faculty and then president of the university, the campus was built. His legacy includes the implementation of specialties, the first of which was anesthesiology.

Vélez Escobar, from his managerial position at the faculty, promoted the creation of the Faculty of Nursing, the Inter-American School of Library Science, the faculty of Dentistry, the School of Microbiology, the School of Nutrition and Dietetics and the National School of Public Health. The creation of the latter was possible thanks to the management of Abad Gómez. 

"Héctor Abad revolutionized the medical field in the country. He traveled to California to study public health and returned to the country, where he found an enormous number of problems in that area. At that time, thinking about prevention and health promotion was utopia", holds Dean Carlos Palacio. 

All the work by Abad Gómez was done through the Faculty of Medicine, where he designed and set up the Department of Preventive Medicine. "He showed the way. He showed us that health goes beyond the mere treatment of a disease. It must be approached from different disciplines, and many sectors are involved. He had an impact on the whole of Latin America with the School of Public Health", said the executive.

The Faculty of Medicine of Universidad of Antioquia has been the cradle of great characters that have marked the destiny of the department, the country and the region. In the photograph, Dr. Ignacio Vélez Escobar is showing the model of the UdeA campus to Carlos Lleras Restrepo, President of the Republic in 1968, a scene captured by the photographer Manuel Ortega. The photograph also shows Dr. Héctor Abad Gómez, professor of the Faculty of Medicine and promoter of the National School of Public Health, which had a great impact on Latin America. Photos: courtesy of the MUUA History Collection photographic archive.

The Digital Era

The School of Medicine of UdeA is also a place of firsts. The first microscope was brought in 1884, the first cesarean section with a live fetus was performed in 1886, the first X-ray equipment was brought in 1901, the first modern operating room in the country was inaugurated in 1903, and the first solid organ transplant was performed in 1973, just to mention a few. 

Unlike the facilities from the late 19th century, today the faculty has modern laboratories and simulation rooms that allow for more comprehensive and accurate training of future health professionals. Being at the forefront of technology and study programs has been one of the most important milestones of the late 20th century and what has elapsed in the 21st. 

The Faculty of Medicine has witnessed the passing of time. "Its trajectory has been marked by significant contributions to the advancement of science and, during these 150 years, it has been the cradle of health professionals who have exalted the university", said Tiberio Álvarez. 

From the Hospital San Juan de Dios, where the students in their ties and black vests practiced anatomy in 1871, the faculty went on to have a presence in the Hospital San Vicente de Paúl, to manage the Clínica Universitaria León XIII and to have a digital hospital, where "450 professionals work, and we provide services for the entire health system in the country. We are not talking about replacing the face-to-face practice of medicine but adding a strategy that helps provide a very important service, and the pandemic demonstrated its usefulness", concluded Dean Carlos Palacio.

Headquarters of the Digital Hospital of Universidad de Antioquia. Photo: Communications Office of UdeA’s Faculty of Medicine.

The Faculty's Current Challenges: 

150 years of history also imply a great responsibility for the future. The challenges that Universidad de Antioquia’s Faculty of Medicine faces today project it for future generations of health professionals. 

They are currently planning to set up a teaching center in two vital healthcare sites for the region: the Hospital San Vicente Fundación and the Clínica León XIII of the IPS Universitaria. The idea is to have the same teaching direction, with related research between the three institutions, to promote the largest academic healthcare center in the country.

In addition, the aspiration is to continue to be an important public center of education with social commitment and responsibility in the development of human talent. In 2019, before the pandemic, the faculty was positioned in the QS international ranking as the first in the area of medicine in the country. 

From the point of view of research, "we are going to strengthen international research by making alliances with organizations and institutions that allow us to carry out knowledge management and training. In this sense, we have made progress in the training of MDs and PhDs and residents in doctoral training", said Dean Carlos Alberto Palacio. 

Finally, they aim to strengthen the Digital Hospital so that it can be of great service to the country and financially sustainable. 

Social Contribution in the Region



Illustration: Carolina Gomes


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