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Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
4301 Jones Bridge Road
Bethesda, Maryland 20814

(800) 515-5257

Nixon signing charter for usu

The History of USU

Although the Uniformed Services University was chartered by an act of Congress on September 21, 1972, the university story really begins decades earlier.

As the dust was settling on the battlefields of Okinawa and the American public was reveling in the fruits of victory, the Department of Defense acknowledged the end of World War II with the discharge of more than ten million men and women. This exodus had vast implications for the Military Health System because included in the turnover were many physicians who-having met their civic responsibilities-returned to their public and private practices. This massive departure left the armed forces with a dwindling medical corps.

Immediately following the war, policy leaders in Congress and the Defense Department discussed the establishment of a federally run medical school. They debated the merits of educating soldiers and sailors in the practice of medicine. Opposition was quick to point out the long lead time to organize such an academy, and there was of course  the matter of cost. It would require considerable funding to see this idea to fruition. On the other hand, the services needed career physicians.

Discourse continued intermittently for years, but action did not ensue until President Nixon called for an end to the draft in 1970. The military could no longer rely on conscripts to provide medical care to our nation's soldiers and their families. The imminent end of a reliable supply of physicians in the uniformed services resulted in a renewed focus on the future of military medicine. And at the forefront was a leading democrat from Louisiana. Congressman F. Edward Hébert heavily championed what he called a "West Point for doctors". At the proposed Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, scholars would receive unparalleled education in the health sciences while the nation gained a strong cadre of medical officers.

The Hébert Idea

F. Edward Hébert

Congressman Hébert lobbied tirelessly for a military medical school and before long, the Uniformed Services University began to receive favorable attention from powerful decision-makers. One such proponent, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, realized a federally run medical school could be an important and powerful adjunct to newly adopted measures calling for military scholarship programs. He used the weight of his charge to rally support and received the backing of many influential congressional leaders. Legislation to create USU was passed by Congress, and President Nixon proved indeed the power of the almighty pen-signing the university into law on Sept. 21, 1972.

The Early Years

Founding members began the daunting task of actualizing the university. The first order of business was to ensure USU was a center of academic and scientific excellence. Selection of students and faculty would reflect this posture. Both would be competitively chosen and only the most qualified applicants – civilian and uniformed – would be considered. The curriculum would be grounded in educational and scientific rigor, the learning environment would harness collegiality and peer review, and above all else, there would be a commitment to high standards of medical professionalism. This framework established the Uniformed Services University as a traditional medical school with a clear focus on the unique requirements of military medicine.

USU's First Location

The university's Board of Regents – 15 members appointed by the President of the United States, and who served as an advisory committee – selected a formidable leader to espouse the USU vision and successfully carry out its mission. Dr. Anthony Curreri augmented his experience as a military officer and physician to become the first president of the university on Jan. 7, 1974.

 

Curreri and staff began supporting the vision but in humble surroundings. They occupied the third floor of a small office building in downtown Bethesda, Maryland. Residing on the ground level was a Peoples Drug Store and a branch of the State National Bank. Curreri would often jest, a bank and drugstore were fitting companions for an up and coming medical school. And for nearly three years, 6917 Arlington Rd. was home to USU pioneers. The modest facility and other temporary sites served as the first classrooms and laboratories as well as office space for faculty, staff and administrative personnel.

The Future

Of course, these provisions would not be able to meet the needs of a growing medical academy for much longer, so in 1973 the Board of Regents appointed a site selection committee to survey various tracts by ground and helicopter transportation. Several areas were considered but in the end, USU's permanent home now spans 100 acres of wooded land on the grounds of the National Naval Medical Center, just three miles from Washington D.C., across the street from the National Institutes of Health, and in the hub of a bustling science community. This central location grants faculty and students singular opportunities to work alongside renowned scientists in the nation's top laboratories.

USU's first class

At their new student home, the first class of 29 sworn officers paved the road for thousands to follow, and as the numbers grew, so too did the scope of the university mission; most notably, to include a Graduate School of Nursing, which utilizes international perspectives on leadership, education and research, while simultaneously equipping the military health system with a corps of advanced practice nurses, uniquely skilled to take on a diverse range of challenges and succeed in any environment.

 

As USU moves into the future, the unfolding story will remain a tale of a continually changing university, but with ideals standing the test of time. Because even as this "West Point of Medicine" evolves to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world, through time the people of this academic health center remain the same. And it is their commitment to excellence in military medicine and public health that makes USU a very special place.