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Four decades later, Quillen College of Medicine still providing for Northeast Tennessee

Jonathan Roberts • Nov 10, 2019 at 12:15 PM

“Happiness is a medical school” read the headline of the Johnson City Press-Chronicle’s March 17, 1974, edition — marking the beginning of a new era for East Tennessee State University and Northeast Tennessee.

It’s since left an undoubted mark on the culture of the region, but its founding in 1974 wasn’t a sure thing. In fact, there were more times during the process where it appeared ETSU would not get a medical school than it did it would.

“All the king’s road builders and park planners were not enough to stop the House from overriding Gov. (Bryant) Winfield Dunn’s veto of legislation designed to create a medical school in Johnson City,” the 1974 article read. “But oh how they tried … ”

Now, 45 years and more than 1,500 graduates later, the Quillen College of Medicine stands alone as the only medical school in the Tennessee Board of Regents System, and has developed into one of America’s leading schools for rural medicine and primary care training.

“As far as practicing in primary care, we are well over the 90th percentile for physicians who practice primary care and who practice in rural areas,” said ETSU’s Dean of Medicine, Dr. William Block.

More than a third of the college’s graduates are primary care physicians, and about 25% of graduates still practice in the Tri-Cities area, Block said. Block also said that, despite having more than 2,200 graduates get their M.D. from ETSU, their national rankings for primary care, rural and family doctors has stayed “consistent throughout the years.”

“I think (the ranking) certainly help us attract students who have that interest and future practice style in mind when they come,” Block said. “We’ve worked hard throughout the history of the school to attract well-rounded students, and students that we would want to take care of our own families.”

It also helps that, according to Tennessee Encyclopedia, the college is ranked eighth in the country for graduates who enter family practice, and is among U.S. News’ best-rated medical schools almost yearly.

“Quillen College of Medicine, really, is what contributes to our ability to have care in a region that otherwise may really have challenges in attracting providers,” Block said.

As for the future, don’t expect much about the college’s mission to change, though the size and scope may.

“I think we’re certainly anticipating continued growth in the areas we’re able to serve and expansion of services that the region is in need of,” Block said. “As we continue to do that, we’ll see increased quality and decreased costs across the region.

“We have the unique ability to make that applicable here because of having the college of medicine, the academic Health Sciences Center and the other four colleges to really teach and practice that in a manner (that) I think will be the future of health care,” he said.

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