The UNM Department of Internal Medicine: Our History

The UNM Department of Internal Medicine was established in 1962. Leading to the naming in 2001 of Chair Pope L. Moseley, MD, the Department of Internal Medicine has had a long history. 

1962-1968: The Papper Years

Reginald Fitz, MD, was the founding dean of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. An internist, Dr. Fitz recruited numerous talented faculty in the early 1960s to create the school. 

The arrival of Solomon Papper, MD, in September 1962 marked the “birth” of the Department of Medicine. Dr. Papper became our first chairman. 

Dr. Papper, a national figure in academic nephrology from the Medical College of Virginia, began the department on the fifth floor of what was then the Bernalillo County Indian Hospital (BCIH), the school’s initial teaching institution. 

Along with five full-time faculty and five support staffDr. Papper established many of the essential elements of the department:  

  • A balanced commitment to patient care, clinical education and clinical research 
  • A strong volunteer clinical faculty 
  • The annual visiting professor program 
  • A summer research program for medical students 

Dr. Papper helped create an innovative curriculum in which clinicians taught alongside scientists in the first two years of medical education. He also planned and initiated the third-year internal medicine clerkship and the subinternship in medicine for fourth-year students. 

By Dr. Papper’s departure in 1968, there were 35 full-time faculty and 25 housestaffAnd, reflecting a more significant role in the community, BCIH had become Bernalillo County Medical Center (BCMC). 

1969-1987: The Williams Years

In May 1969, Ralph C. Williams, Jr., MD, a rheumatologist and immunologic investigator from the University of Minnesota, joined as the second chairman of the Department of Medicine. Dr. Williams was appointed by Robert Stone, MD, founding chairman of pathology, who had succeeded Reginald Fitz as dean in 1968. 

Over the next 18, Dr. Williams led the establishment of a divisional organizational structure representing general medicine and all major subspecialties. Full-time faculty had almost doubled in number, the departmental budget exceeded $6 million and research awards totaled almost $3 million.  

In 1975, the department moved from BCMC 5 North to expanded space on the seventh floor of the hospital’s new south wing.  

The Williams era saw major expansion of research activities, including the 1977 establishment of a National Institutes of Health-funded clinical research center.  

Patient care focused on specialized technical services in nephrology, gastroenterology, cardiology and pulmonary medicine. Outpatient visits and inpatient admissions increased dramatically at BCMC and the Albuquerque VA Hospital. 

In undergraduate education, the subspecialty division assumed much of the organ block teaching in the second year, and the medicine clerkship was revised. Postgraduate rotations and subspecialty training programs at the fellowship level were established at Lovelace Medical Center, St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe and Gallup Indian Medical Center. 

In 1978, BCMC was leased by Bernalillo County to the state and became the University of New Mexico Hospital. In 1986-87, a new VA Medical Center clinical wing opened, allowing for more internal medicine faculty who also provide clinical service to Kirtland Air Force Base. 

1988-2000The Strickland Years

In 1988, following a national search, Robert G. (Reg) Strickland, MD, became the third Department of Medicine chairmanHe was appointed by School of Medicine Dean Leonard Napolitano, PhD, the school’s third dean since 1973. Dr. Strickland had served as chief of the department’s Division of Gastroenterology since 1972. 

To better respond to mounting national challenges for academic medicine, within the department Dr. Strickland established the offices of clinical affairs, education and research. Achievements under his leadership include: 

  • A mission statement reemphasizing the central role of education in the department.  
  • An enhanced working relationship with University Hospital administration and staffwhich led to recruitment of new faculty through the New Provider Program. 
  • Expansion of critical care service in internal medicine within University Hospital 
  • Recruitment of a director within the Pulmonary Division. 
  • Appointment of the department’s and School of Medicine’s first endowed chair, the Flinn Chair in Adult Cardiology. 
  • A successful move of the department from 7 south to expanded space on the 5th floor of the new ambulatory care center in 1991. The department led the effort to plan space utilization in its new home. 
  • Renewed emphasis on faculty development to successfully retain junior faculty and to recruit more female faculty. By 2000, female faculty had increased to 30% and two division chiefs were female. The department was also the first to initiate a new faculty trac in the medical center: clinician educator. 
  • A clinical trial center opened in 1997. Located on 5 north, it successfully complemented the NIH funded GCRC on 5 east. 
  • Faculty, housestaff and administrative staff doubled and clinical and research revenue to the department increased substantially. 
  • Two new divisions were established: Geriatrics and Clinical Epidemiology/Preventive Medicine.  
  • The division of General Medicine was greatly expanded to meet increasing patient care demands. 
  • The department was the first to establish a hospitalist program at University Hospital and to staff the newly constructed offsite clinics. 
  • The department responded to the initiation of more rigorous accreditation and resident training standardssuccessfully completing three accreditation cycles during the 1988-2000 period. 

The department’s new location on the fifth floor of the University Hospital Ambulatory Care Center facilitated better integration of academic and hospital staff. This allowed for contemporary models of clinical practice, as well as new programs in clinical education and clinical research focusing more on ambulatory activities.