Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile is a billion-dollar campus focused on medical and life sciences research, treatment and education. Simply put, doctors and nurses, scientists and entrepreneurs are being grown on Medical Mile.

In this blog we will deal with the former. Doctors.

As I wrote in Last Chance Mile: The Reinvention of an American Community: “The first attempt to create a physician community didn’t go well. Grand Rapids Medical College opened its doors in 1897, organized by a group of local physicians who became its faculty. They offered a three-year program, as well as a six-month course in veterinary medicine.

No problem. Grand Rapids is all about reinvention. The medical school reopened the following year and graduated 108 students some of whom became highly respected doctors in the community.

However, the school closed down for good in 1906 under pressure from a much-better four-year program that the University of Michigan was running.

Maybe that was a good thing, based on the 1905 Grand Rapids Medical College class yell:

“Well man, sick man, dead man stiff!
Dig ‘em up, cut ‘em up, what’s the diff?
Humorous, tumorous, Dead or alive,
Grand Rapids Medics 1905.”

Its confidence or maybe its desperation not shaken by that class yell, Grand Rapids did grow its own doctors. Bedside manner aside, some of these doctors did the kind of research that foreshadowed what would come on Medical Mile. Men like Dr. Schuyler Graves. This Grand Rapids physician was trying to figure out what to do about appendicitis ten years before the Class of ’05 graduated.

Graves investigated 25 cases of the disease. He operated on 12 of the patients. Six died. The doctor treated the rest medically and four died. He concluded that appendicitis was a dangerous disease.

Before Dr. Graves, there was Dr. Van Noorden. He created a special diet for diabetics in 1899: 100 grams of oatmeal, 100 grams of eggs, 300 grams of butter that was all cooked together and divided five ways. As one newspaper reporter wrote at the time, ‘The only saving grace was the addition of eight ounces of coffee and one of whiskey.’”

It must have seemed like a better idea at the time.

Rod Kackley
Lyons Circle Publishing Inc.

Rod Kackley is an author and  journalist. He has written for Crain’s Detroit Business, The Detroit News, and MiBiz.  He is a former news director for WOOD-AM/FM and has written a book that tells the story of the creation of Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile, Last Chance Mile: The Reinvention of an American Community (available wherever bookstores and online). He has also written an ebook essay series, Restore The Roar: Manufacturing Renaissance, which is available online.

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