by Monte Sahlin
By AT News Team, June 19, 2014
The class of 2014 which graduated with medical degrees at Loma Linda University in California at the end of May is the 100th graduating class of physicians produced by the Adventist institution. A total of more than 10,000 medical doctors have come from LLU over the years; more than any other school, government or private, secular or faith-based, in the western United States.
That alone is a major contribution to America and humanity around the globe. The university has also been the source of ground-breaking research about how to prevent illness and treat disease, including cross-species heart transplants and proton accelerator radiation therapy for tumors and other problems.
The Seventh-day Adventist denomination decided in 1909 to launch the school after Dr. John H. Kellogg left the faith and took with him its American Medical Missionary College in Battle Creek, Michigan. He was the founder of the denomination’s health ministries and one of America’s most prolific innovators in the area of wellness.
It began with only five physicians on the faculty and the first graduating class consisted of just six new doctors. More significant, says Dr. Roger Hadley, dean of the LLU School of Medicine, is “we can accurately claim to have the same mission today as when our School of Medicine started. We unequivocally make that claim and are proud to continue that legacy.”
Many of the early trials and triumphs are well known. Both denominational and school leaders often agonized over the institution’s survival and the many issues around how it should relate to government, secular accrediting bodies, economic realities, scientific developments, and changing society. “Many times the future of Loma Linda was in jeopardy, when sheer determination and God’s intervention were all that kept it alive,” says Dr. Richard Hart, university president.
“The commitment of our students through the years has been remarkable,” Hart continues. Those first six graduates showed up for their state board examinations without prior approval, and were finally granted the privilege of taking the tests. Later students voted to remain at Loma Linda when it had only a “C” rating from the AMA which meant they could be drafted into World War I. At least 10 percent of every class has served as medical missionaries, starting over 50 mission hospitals around the world. That is a record unmatched by any group, states Hart.
Because the San Bernardino-Riverside region where LLU is located was rural with a small population in the early 20th century, the institution operated a clinic and then built a hospital in an urban neighborhood in Los Angeles. This provided the clinical experience needed to train physicians. The hospital still serves East Los Angeles today as White Memorial Medical Center, named after Ellen G. White, a cofounder of the denomination who played a key role in starting LLU. Denominational leaders were reluctant to take on additional debt, so White took out a personal loan to contribute to the purchase of the original property and urged Pastor John Burden to go ahead despite a vote against it.
In 1967 the university consolidated its programs in Loma Linda and built the first medical center there to provide clinical experience and research opportunities. The campus has become a complex of six hospitals with more than 1,000 beds. Dr. David Hinshaw, who played a key administrative role in the process of consolidation and campus development, was honored at the May graduation ceremonies.
In view of the struggles LLU had getting accreditation in the early years, Hart said, it is a “thankful irony … that two classmates from our class of 1974 are now in leadership positions in the two most significant medical accrediting organizations in this country. Dr. Don Melnick is president of the National Board of Medical Examiners, which sets standards and certifies individual physicians. And Dr. Roger Hadley serves on the board of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which certifies medical schools.”
When the early leaders of LLU decided to follow White’s advice to have “a school of the highest order” and seek accreditation, it set in motion a major change for the entire Adventist education system. When LLU made a commitment to meet those standards, then accreditation was also required of the colleges from which it accepted graduate students. Today the vast majority of people take it for granted that Adventist universities and colleges are fully accredited despite the fact that a small minority still think they should operate as unaccredited Bible colleges, as do a couple of very small, independent Adventist institutions.