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Alumni Spotlight | UMD's pioneering class of 1976

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the graduation of the first class to begin its medical training at the University of Minnesota Medical School-Duluth. This diverse group, which included a set of identical twins, two Native Americans, and a nun, entered a school that had been accredited only six weeks before—in fact, the curriculum was still in the works a week before they arrived.

But if nothing else, one thing was certain: The Medical School-Duluth had a unique mission. When its first students walked through the doors in September 1972, they knew their school wanted them to leave as well-trained family practitioners who would soon help alleviate the shortage of rural physicians in Minnesota.

With a modest appropriation from the state legislature, Duluth’s medical campus opened with Dean Robert Carter, M.D., at the reins.

“Those were exciting times,” says James Boulger, Ph.D., director of alumni relations and a professor at the Medical School-Duluth. “You never knew what was coming next.”


Carter hired a young faculty that started something considered extremely innovative and controversial at the time: They moved a component of medical education into the community. The preceptorship program they designed allowed students to learn from practicing family physicians in a one-on-one clinical setting. This program continues today as a central element of the curriculum.

Many of Duluth’s original faculty members are still teaching today, including Dean Richard Ziegler, Ph.D., who started as an assistant professor of microbiology and continues to give occasional lectures.

It’s been 30 years since the charter class’s graduation, and a few things have changed. The Medical School, which started out in an old building four blocks from UMD’s main campus, now has its own building in the heart of the action. This year the Medical School-Duluth accepted 56 first-year students—more than twice the size of the first group admitted. But the mission remains the same.

Boulger says it’s hard to capture in numbers what makes the Medical School-Duluth so different from all the others. “What the numbers don’t tell you about is all of the really neat people who went here,” he says.

For the 24 people in Duluth’s charter class, Boulger still remembers each one’s name. One has died, one has retired, and another has two children who also attended medical school in Duluth, he says.

The UMD Class of 1976 has been invited to celebrate this 30-year milestone at the Alumni Reunion Weekend this May in the Twin Cities. The Duluth group will have its own space to reminisce at their class dinner.

“I at least want to get them together for a beer,” Boulger says. “I think that is important.”

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