Philip B. Price, M.D.
The Johns Hopkins of the West
Challenge, always makes
people rise to the occasion.”
Dr. Philip B. Price
observed in 1969
Born of Protestant missionary parents in 1897 in Kashing Checkiang, China, Philip Price was taught by his mother until the family returned to the United States on furlough in 1910. Graduating with his medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1921, Dr. Price completed his residency training in surgery at Union Memorial Hospital (Baltimore) in 1925.
That same year, the recently married Price returned to China with his nurse wife as medical missionaries. For the next twelve years, until the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, Dr. Price served as surgeon, assistant professor, associate professor, and medical director of surgery at Cheeloo University in Jinan.
Returning to the United States in 1938, Dr. Price was appointed to the faculty of the medical school of his alma mater. For the next five years, as he was when in China, Dr. Price served as both an assistant and associate professor of surgery.
University of Utah, Medical Training to Medical School
First Graduating Class, 1905
In 1905, the University of Utah instituted a two-year program of medical education. It was an acceptable accomplishment for its time, and during its early years filled an important local role providing students with a place to begin their medical training.
By the early 1940’s, however, with students obliged to go elsewhere to finish their education, coupled with the shortage of physicians as a consequence of World War II, University president LeRoy Cowles appointed a committee to plan for the formation of a four-year medical school.
Local surgeon, Dr. Cyril Callister was named part-time dean and undertook the business to assemble a staff for the new school. In the fall of 1942, Dr. Callister sent his first letter extending to Dr. Price the offer to head the new Department of Surgery and an invitation to visit.
Dr. Callister aggressively set out to recruit a top-flight faculty whose future members were to be drawn from a pool of talent who were already well known in their respective fields of medicine, possessed excellent instructional skills as well as national reputations for their research..”
Dr. Price arrived in Salt Lake in mid-November to inspect the University, the Salt Lake County General Hospital as well as LDS, St. Mark’s and Holy Cross hospitals. Dr. Price was taken by the boldness of Dr. Callister’s and President Cowles’s challenge to say nothing of being struck by the beauty of the valley and surrounding mountains.
The whirlwind experience and lavish treatment produced an uncharacteristic effect on the otherwise modest Price: “The inflation of my ego,’ was to his surprise, ‘ignobly pleasant.”
Returning to Baltimore to discuss his future prospects with his family, Dr. Price later wrote back to Dr. Callister in December: “If the Medical School is to fulfill its high destiny, it must have a University Hospital,” concluding, “if you can assure me I have your interest and support, I will gladly accept your invitation.”
University of Utah, Salt Lake City
Dr. Price assumed his duties as Professor of Surgery and head of the Department in February, 1943. In addition to his teaching and administrative responsibilities at the University, Dr. Price was also named “Surgeon-in-Chief” at the Salt Lake County General Hospital.
By formal agreement, the County and the Board of Regents placed running of the SLGH under the control of the clinical members of the University medical faculty. By all accounts, the conditions at the County Hospital were dreadful.
Salt Lake County General Hospital played an important part in the development of the new medical school as it assumed the role as the University’s main teaching hospital.“
The medical school fared little better, having to content itself with making do in twenty-five buildings, ranging from wooden barracks to old stables scattered about the city and campus.
Despite the evident physical hardships, the opportunity to attract a number of “young idealists who were eager to try out their own ideas,” Dr. Price later noted, was foundational in building the medical school’s reputation. So successful was it in that regard, an article in Newsweek in 1952 referred to the growing school as “The Johns Hopkins of the West.”
“Brains Not Bricks” was, in those early years, the motto of the medical school. The desire to recruit a superior faculty meant that for fifteen years the school and hospital functioned as two institutions.
Young idealists who were eager to try out their own ideas”
In 1955, the University set aside a parcel of land acquired from Fort Douglas as the future site of the University Hospital. The following year with Dr. Price named dean, the Board of Regents approved the plan for construction of a $10 million academic medical center. In 1957 the state Legislature authorized an appropriation of $4 million.
Much of the planning for the Medical Center had been just talk prior to 1955 when Dr. Price became acting dean
The remaining total was raised by means of a public fund drive headed by a committee of prominent citizens, and a $2 million grant-in-aid by way of the NIH and Hill-Burton Act.
Ground was broken on July 13, 1959, although the contract for construction was not concluded until December 14, 1961. Work, by conditions of the contract, had to commence within four weeks. On January 9, 1962, Dr. Price, along with University administrators and medical faculty watched Governor George D. Clyde maneuver an earth-moving tractor to officially begin construction.
Twenty years after Dr. Price’s letter accepting Dr. Callister’s challenge, with the Governor and dignitaries looking on that September, the retiring dean laid the cornerstone of the hospital he had envisioned in 1942
A hospital “that would not be palatial or fancy, but which would facilitate carrying on the highest grade of scientific work, which by the quality and reputation of its clinical work would attract patients from the whole Mountain Region irrespective of their economic status, and which would have such a standing in the community that the best physicians and surgeons of the city would aspire to join its visiting staff.”
EHSL Digital Publishing, History of the Health Sciences
Philip B. Price, M.D. Interview (1969) Video