Honoring the First Class
A profile of Martin G. Burkland, M.D. ’50.
The first students who graduated from the UW School of Medicine did so 60 years ago, in 1950. We asked graduate Martin G. Burkland, M.D. ’50, who remembers the very first years of the UW School of Medicine, to tell us about his experiences.
Martin G. Burkland, M.D. ’50, was one of
the UW School of Medicine’s first graduates.
Martin G. Burkland set out on the great American road trip — an excursion up and down the East Coast in an old jalopy that maxed out at 35 miles per hour — not long after applying to the University of Washington School of Medicine. He was out of contact with his family for weeks, he says, and despite the years that have passed since then, he clearly remembers the scene when he returned home to Seattle.
“My mother was standing there, all dressed up,” says Burkland. “She didn’t know where I was, so she was going to go to my medical-school interview for me.”
As it happens, Burkland had made it back in time to do his own interview, and out of the many candidates who applied to the new school, he was one of the 50 students accepted into the first class.
During the Great Depression, Burkland and his family moved from Astoria, Ore., to Seattle, Wash., where his father secured a job that paid $200 a month. At that time, doctors still made house calls, and Burkland remembers the family doctor, Olaf Christoferson. “He’d come over and dispense medication and orders,” says Burkland. “And just like today, we didn’t always follow them!”
Still, Dr. Christoferson inspired the young Burkland to follow him in the profession, and Burkland took pre-med courses at the University of Washington, graduating with a B.S. in chemistry in only two years.
World War II interrupted the course of Burkland’s education — he joined the U.S. Navy, becoming a communications officer on a destroyer. After active duty, he used the G.I. Bill to support his pursuit of a medical degree.
Photo by Barry Peterson, Team Photogenic
As a member of the first class, Burkland remembers the founding of the School, and the controversy it caused. Not all the local doctors were happy at the competition posed by new faculty members, he says. This did not, however, deter either the faculty or the students. It was as important to the School for the medical students to graduate as it was for the students, says Burkland. “My success was their success,” he says.
He also counts the first dean of the UW School of Medicine, Edward Turner, M.D., as a visionary, one whose influence followed the inaugural class members throughout their careers. Burkland remembers what Dean Turner told the class on the first day of school in 1946, listing the traits required of a physician: honesty and integrity, dedication and hard work, competency, an investigative mind and, above all, a willingness to accept responsibility.
Although medical school was challenging in 1950, Burkland believes today’s students face even greater challenges. “They’ve got a lot of work in front of them,” he says, noting that students today begin focusing their career paths in the third year of school. In contrast, he served as an intern for one year, and the multiple rotations helped him choose his career.
Burkland retired in 1995 from his general medicine practice, one that he maintained for 43 years. He’s proud of
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