First of Three Books About the History of Medicine


One crisp fall day in 1945, a young man named Howard L. Holley arrived at the Jefferson-Hillman Hospital for his first day as an intern. Like so many of Alabama's native sons and daughters, he had left the state to attend a four-year medical school. But he returned to his native state the year the two-year Medical College of Alabama moved from Tuscaloosa to become a four-year school in Birmingham. That day, he joined Dean Roy R. Kracke and the faculty as they began instructing medical students. 


In our oral history interview, he told me what the hospital was like when he arrived that day. He told me he never would have imagined that the medical school would grow, in time, to be part of an internationally recognized medical center and a comprehensive urban university. He was amazed that he had been there to witness its growth from four blocks to more than 60 blocks. 


I could hear the amazement in his voice as he told me the story of his career and how its fortunes were, in his words, inextricably connected with this high-tech medical phoenix rising out of the industrial soot and, later, the racial ashes of Birmingham. I have since seen how his was the quintessential UAB Medical Center career, and the Medical Center's story was really Dr. Holley's story only written larger. He conceded that he had more opportunities here than he would have had at an established institution.  


As I sifted through thousands of photographs for this book, it occurred to me that there could be no better way to try to see this history than through the eyes an the eager, earnest young man who came 50 years ago and stayed until his death.


I invite the reader to stand on the steps of the Jefferson-Hillman Hospital in 1945 with Howard Holley and see the surrounding slums. Then wonder about the chances of the new four-year medical school to thrive in a historically poor state. Turn the pages of this story and see the modest buildings that sprang up to shelter a medical center. Hear the wonder in the voices of those who tell the amazing story of the great obstacles surmounted and witness the evolving corporate culture that made it all happen. 


Excerpt from the dedication page of "Building on a Vision: A 50-year Retrospective of UAB Hospital and Medical Center."

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Birmingham, Alabama 2019