Department History

The University of Nebraska Medical Center has had a long-time commitment to family medicine, beginning with the initiation of the rural preceptorship in 1949. In the late 1960's, the University of Nebraska Medical Center launched its initial efforts to establish a Department of Family Practice. Fay Smith, MD, a rural physician in Imperial, Nebraska, left his private practice to join the Medical Center and become the nation's first Professor of General Practice.

Dr. Smith joined in national efforts to form a specialty board in Family Practice, which came to fruition in 1969. At that time, the first Family Practice board examinations were given to physicians who had at least six years of clinical experience in general practice and who were accredited members of the National Association of General Practice. Residency training programs also began in 1969, and one year later, the University of Nebraska Medical Center became an accredited program and was approved by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents.

Dr. Smith had expended a great deal of energy and effort into the planning of UNMC's new department; unfortunately, due to his untimely death, he was never able to serve as chairman of the Family Practice department. Francis Land, MD, a general practitioner, became the first chairman of the newly formed Department of Family Practice. Prior to joining the Department, Dr. Land had served in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, as the Commissioner of the Medical Services Administration, the branch of the federal government that administered the Federal Medicaid Program.

During his five years as chairman of the Department, Dr. Land saw the program expand from four to 29 residents and supervised a faculty of four physicians.

In 1975, Paul Young, MD, came from the Department of Community Health and Medical Practice at the University of Missouri-Columbia, to take over as chairman of UNMC's Family Practice Department, a position he held for the next four years. During his years at the helm, Dr. Young oversaw the further growth of the Department as more residents and faculty joined Family Practice.

After leaving the Department in 1980, Dr. Young went to Galveston, Texas, to the medical branch of the University of Texas, to serve as chairman of the Department of Family Practice. In 1990 Dr. Young was appointed the Executive Director of the American Board of Family Practice, where he previously served as the Deputy Executive Director. In 2003 Dr. Young was named Executive Director Emeritus of the American Board of Family Medicine.

The only woman to serve as chair of the Department, Margaret Faithe, MD, did so twice on an interim basis. First she served for 11 months, from August, 1974, until June, 1975; she served again as chair six years later, from July, 1980 to April, 1981. One of Dr. Faithe's most memorable undertakings was the training course that she developed for displaced foreign physicians from Vietnam, to assimilate them into American language, customs, and medical practices, and then provide them practice opportunities in rural Nebraska, where some continue to practice.

During 1981 through 1989, the Department continued to grow under the direction of Robert Bass, MD. Dr. Bass was a Family Practice physician who practiced in Genoa, Nebraska for 22 years, before joining the Department as a faculty member, a position he resumed after serving as chairman.

In 1981, Dr. Bass oversaw the development of a community- based rotation for Family Practice residents from the Family Practice training programs at UNMC, Creighton University, and Lincoln. Residents in their second or third year of training experience rural medicine first-hand during the two-month rotation. As part of its commitment to the rotation and to rural health, the Department connected various rural communities with UNMC through computer hookups. This effort, funded by the Department and the UNMC Library, included training in library and computer searching, communication skills, and the provision of library materials and services.

This initial effort to provide computer link-ups between the Med Center and rural communities has since been expanded by the University Hospital and now involves many rural hospitals and community physicians.

As part of its original mission--through the present day--the Department has had an ongoing concern for providing family physicians to rural areas of Nebraska. Dr. Fay Smith had this as one of his highest priorities when he came to the Medical Center and started working to found the Department. Since the Department was formally organized in 1970, 224 residents have trained in the Department.

Today, with Michael Sitorius, M.D., supervising a Department that has grown to nearly seven times its original size, a primary goal continues to be the provision of quality health care to the farthest corners of the state. Meeting this goal takes many forms, including undergraduate training, programs developed specifically to address the need for health care in rural areas, and the training of Family Practice residents.

The Family Practice Residency Training Program experienced one of its biggest growth spurts in July, 1992, when it added the Family Practice residents from the United States Air Force. As a result of that merger, 17 residents from Ehrling Bergquist Hospital became part of the UNMC program, providing the benefits of seven additional faculty and a new training site for several of our rotations such as orthopedics and surgery.

In addition to resident education, Family Practice faculty members have become increasingly involved in undergraduate education. One of the most significant parts of undergraduate education that faculty members participate in is the development and teaching of several of the key components of the new integrated clinical experience (ICE). Several Family Practice faculty serve as division directors in the program, with responsibility for the curriculum and much of the teaching in such areas as preventive medicine, patient interviewing skills, and the behavioral aspects of medicine. Family Practice faculty also spend significant hours each week working one-on-one precepting students striving to develop skills in the taking of histories and physicals.

The Department also sponsors a Family Practice Club to foster interest among undergraduates. And for those undergraduate students in the College of Medicine desiring some exposure to international health, the Department coordinates a one-month rotation in Belize, Central America. Supported by the Alumni Association of the College of Medicine, the program has provided more than 20 students with the opportunity to experience first-hand the medical challenges of a third-world country.

As the Department has grown, so too has the number of faculty and staff. Today, in addition to the over 40 physicians on the faculty, the Department also boasts a host of other professionals including family therapists, medical social workers, researchers, and educators.