On April 24, 1863, the State of New York granted a charter for the establishment of a new school in Beirut, which was to be known as the Syrian Protestant College (hereafter SPC). Dr. Daniel Bliss was appointed president of the college, which opened in the autumn of 1866 with a class of sixteen students while the medical school opened the following year.
The early history of the medical school is inseparable from that of three outstanding professors who cofounded it in 1867 and guided it during the first 15 years. Those three men were Drs. Cornelius Van Dyck, George Post, and John Wortabet. In 1871, the first class of medical doctors graduated from the Syrian Protestant College, and during the same year, the faculty joined the Prussian hospital for clinical teaching.
The 150 years of growth and development of the medical school have not been without crises. In 1882, Professor Edwin Lewis gave a commencement address favoring the theories of Charles Darwin. The Board of Trustees and the non-medical faculty were so offended that Professor Lewis was forced to resign. All the full-time members of the medical faculty joined with their resignations except for Dr. Post. Many of the medical students also rebelled and were temporarily suspended, so it appeared that the career of the flourishing young medical school might suddenly have been brought to an end. A significant side effect of the crisis, however, was a change in the language of instruction from Arabic to English, because the new professors who replaced those who resigned did not know Arabic and did not have time to learn it before beginning their duties.
Although the Prussian hospital provided adequate clinical facilities for three decades, it became apparent to the progressive medical faculty members in the early 1900's that more hospital space was needed, particularly to accommodate patients in various medical specialties such as diseases of children, women, and skin. As a result, new land was obtained adjacent to the university campus and three pavilions were completed between 1907 and 1910. Additionally, the faculty enlarged the School of Pharmacy and established the Schools of Nursing and Dentistry.
The First World War presented the medical school with another serious crisis, but the school continued under great difficulties in spite of being an American institution located within alien territory. More than thirty-eight medical graduates gave up their lives while in active service in the Ottoman army during the war. With their sacrifice, the college survived all German and Ottoman attempts of closure.
After the First World War, the SPC was renamed the American University of Beirut, and the faculty with the financial assistance of the Rockefeller Foundation started a new period of expansion and modernization. Following the war, renewed interest in the University and its medical school was taken by the trustees and many supporters. The new countries of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Transjordan looked to the University to train leaders in every field of public life.
During the Second World War, the people of the region again derived benefits from the medical school, not only through medical services rendered, but also from the production of vaccines by the bacteriology department upon which the local government had long relied.
After Second World War, the American University Hospital (AUH), now referred to as the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC), received full accreditation from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals in the United States. This created the need for expansion. As a result, in 1970, the new Medical Center was inaugurated. With the advent of the Lebanese civil strife, the Medical Center played a critical role throughout the war and provided medical care for a large number of the war victims.
Today, AUBMC is the first medical institution in the Middle East to have earned five international accreditations of the Joint Commission International (JCI), Magnet, College of American Pathologists (CAP), Joint Accreditation Committee for EBMT and ISCT Europe (JACIE), and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education - International (ACGME-I) attesting to its superior standards in patient-centered care, nursing, pathology/laboratory services, and graduate medical education. AUBMC's impact on the medical sector and on improving people's lives is without equal in the Arab world. With our magnanimous history comes tremendous responsibility to continue to provide the highest standards of excellence in patient-centered care, education, and research the Middle East has ever seen. As a result, the faculty of today look back in wonder at the achievements of the three pioneers, Drs. Cornelius Van Dyck, George Post, and John Wortabet, whose vision, devotion and versatile service led to today's citadel of medical learning in the Middle East.