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An intelligent project

USP School of Medicine celebrates its 100th anniversary

FMUSP Historical Museum

The school’s premises toward the end of construction work, in 1931. On the lower side of the photo, graves in the Araça CemeteryFMUSP Historical Museum

When they designed a school to train physicians for the state of São Paulo back in 1912, the group gathered around Arnaldo Vieira de Carvalho thought about coming up with something different. Their objective was to set up a modern curriculum, different from that of Brazil’s first three schools of medicine (in Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre). They designed a preliminary one-year course followed by general one spanning five years, covering 28 disciplines. As the appointed dean of the new school, Vieira de Carvalho directed teaching to a scientific and experimental basis, with an emphasis on research and laboratory studies. In two of the other schools, the model consisted of theoretical lectures focusing on clinical medicine. One hundred years later, the project proved to be correct, as the University of São Paulo School of Medicine (FMUSP) has been an ongoing source not only of good physicians, but also of scientific research in the medical and health fields.

Its early days were difficult. One year before what was then called the School of Medicine and Surgery of São Paulo came into being, the Free University of São Paulo, a private-sector concern, was established. This had nothing to do with USP, created in 1934. The Free University arose in the wake of the Rivadavia Correia bill of April 1911, which allowed the organization of private-sector education in Brazil. Presided over by Eduardo Guimarães, this university started with five courses, one of which was medicine. However, it did not last very long, because in December of 1912, Vieira de Carvalho obtained from the São Paulo state government the authorization for the establishment of the government school. This measure, along with others – such as opposition from the local medical elite, which regarded private initiative as a second rate concern, caused the Free University to flounder in 1917.

It proved difficult for the project of an official school to obtain regular government funding. In its early years, it operated in the facilities of the Polytechnic School of the Álvares Penteado School of Commerce and in a rented building on Brigadeiro Tobias Street. Lectures started in 1914 with only three professors: Carvalho, Celestino Bourroul and Edmundo Xavier. Over time, they were joined by Guilherme Bastos Milward, two Frenchmen (Emille Brumpt and Lambert Mayer) and three Italians (Alfonso Bovero, Alexandre Donatti and Antonio Carini), among many others.

FMUSP Historical Museum

A practical lecture of Professor Carmo Lordy (standing with his arms crossed) at the Brigadeiro Tobias street building. Picture taken between 1914 and 1920FMUSP Historical Museum

“In 1916, support from the Rockefeller Foundation materialized; it had taken a while to come through for political reasons,” says the historian André Mota, who coordinates the FMUSP Historical Museum. “What the Americans required in exchange for their funding was the construction of a teaching hospital; until then, the Santa Casa hospital was used.” Vieira de Carvalho died in 1920, at the age of 53, and the agreement with the Rockefeller foundation only came true in 1926. In 1931, the current building of the school was inaugurated. It was paid for by the foundation. Three years later, USP came into being. The inauguration of the Clinicas Hospital took place in 1944. Along with this, construction of the specialized institutes was started. Today, there are eight such institutes.

International acknowledgement of the school’s excellence came about in 1951, when the American Medical Society ranked it among the world’s top 15 medical schools. “Today, the Shanghai University ranking, one of the many available, ranks it 76th. It is the only Brazilian course among the top 100,” said José Otávio Costa Auler Júnior, deputy dean in charge of the school. “We want to be among the top 50.” Over the last 100 years, the faculty was responsible for pioneering scientific advances, such as the first kidney transplant in Latin America (1965), the first kidney transplant in South America (1968) and the second heart transplant in the world (1968), among many others. In 1975, 62 Medical Investigation Laboratories were created. At present, they account for 4% of Brazil’s research (or 14% of the country’s medical research).

Costa Auler mentions three objectives for the future: “The first is to promote more integration between the research groups and foreign researchers, in order to increase the impact of the science that is produced,” he said. The second is to structure new educational models, to make the courses more efficient, in the pursuit of excellence in education. And the third is to develop strategies centered on some of the public health problems in large cities, such as pollution, alcohol and drugs.