East Tennessee State University James H. Quillen College of Medicine

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The James H. Quillen College of Medicine is a medical school, part of East Tennessee State University located in Johnson City, Tennessee. It is one of two public medical schools in Tennessee, the other being the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.

It was named for state senator Jimmy Quillen, who led the fight to open a second public medical school in Tennessee. The school was originally named the ETSU Quillen-Dishner College of Medicine, but Dr. Paul Dishner's name was removed in 1989.


In 1968, Dr. D.P. Culp was appointed president of ETSU, and his stated major goal was to establish a medical school. Realizing the help of Congressman Jimmy Quillen would be necessary, Dr. Culp and numerous others solicited and secured his support. Other early supporters included State Representative P.L. Robinson, ETSU Dean of Health John Lamb, Johnson City attorney Mark Hicks, then Speaker of the House Ned McWherter, newspaper publisher Carl Jones, State Senator Marshall Nave, State Representative Gwen Fleming, Johnson City Physician Dr. Charles Ed Allen, and State Representative Bob Good.

A 1971 study by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission concluded that it was not cost effective to have a medical school in Northeast Tennessee. This study was supported by the Tennessee Board of Regents. Shortly afterwards, a new process for starting the school became available.

In April 1971, U.S. Congressman Olin Teague of Texas introduced a bill to create five medical schools in conjunction with established VA hospitals. Senator Alan Cranston of California introduced a companion bill. Known as the Teague-Cranston Act, the proposal called for the creation of five new medical schools in five states to meet the needs of the medically underserved areas of the country. Congressman Quillen introduced an amendment, which required that any university to be considered for acceptance into this pilot program must be on government property contiguous and adjacent to a VA hospital, as East Tennessee State University was adjacent to the Mountain Home VA Hospital. The bill passed without a dissenting vote in October of 1972, and was signed by President Richard Nixon.

In Tennessee, Senator Nave called for consideration of legislation to establish a medical school at ETSU in the Senate on February 14, 1974 which was approved. Four days later, the bill failed to get a majority vote in the Lower House. Representatives Robinson and Good used their political influence, and the measure was passed on second attempt on February 28. The bill was presented to Governor Winfield Dunn of Memphis, who vetoed it as expected. Motions to override the veto were made by Senator Nave and Representative Robinson in their respective houses. The Senate overrode with a 18-13 vote on March 6, and the House followed suit on March 12, 1974 when the state Legislature overrode the Governor’s veto by a vote of 51-37 (one more than the 50 required), with the decisive vote being cast by Speaker of the House Ned McWherter.

Following provisional accreditation, the first class of 24 MD students started in August 1978, and the first MD degrees were awarded in May 1982.[1]

The political fight for the school continued to reverberate through Tennessee politics. Quillen never forgave former Republican Governor Winfield Dunn for his opposition, and when Dunn ran for a second term in 1986, Quillen saw that Dunn's Republican support in East Tennessee was weak. Democrat Ned McWherter then won the election by a large margin.


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