Moving Forward With Campus Safety

Overall, the quality of medical care in the United States is superb. While people complain about long waits at doctors’ offices, the high cost of medical services, and other aspects of medical care, we are very fortunate. Regularly traveling to other countries can give one a different perspective and appreciation for our standards of medical care. A good doctor saved my life earlier this year by finding a relatively simple medical condition that made me lose 23 pounds in 12 days and came closer to killing me than six rounds fired at me while I was a university police officer. I have gained an even greater appreciation for the field of medicine after initially wondering if I would leave the hospital alive.

Most people in this country would agree that Harvard University’s School of Medicine is not only a good medical school, but also a superb one. In fact, most would agree that it is one of the best medical schools in the world and graduates extremely competent and skilled life-saving physicians; much like the doctor who saved my life. But a Harvard medical education has not always been what it is today. In fact, all of the nation’s medical schools were once horrific by today’s standards of medical education. In re-reading an excellent book titled The Great Influenza by John M. Barry, I was reminded of the incredible transformation of the field of medicine in the U.S. made possible by a number of key movers and shakers in the medical field, the American Medical Association, the Carnegie Foundation, and the creation of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

According to Barry’s detailed account of American medical history, as late as the 1870’s American medical schools were generally owned by their faculty, who dared not fail students… because they would lose money if they lost students. Even though European medical schools of that time were based on science and demanding academics, even a Harvard medical student “could fail four of nine courses and still get an M.D.” When Harvard President Charles Elliot attempted to require written final exams after a recent graduate killed three patients in a row because he did not know how much morphine constituted a lethal dose, the most powerful member of the medical faculty criticized the move because more than half of Harvard medical students “could barely write.”

The author further points out that when Johns Hopkins died and left a huge trust to be used to for the creation of a new university and hospital, the presidents of Harvard, Yale, and Cornell all advised not to fashion the medical school after the greatest German universities. But the trustees ignored the advice and created a medical school with a renowned international faculty and rigorous admission, academic, and graduation standards. As a result, most medical schools in the U.S. eventually closed, and the remainder adopted this new approach to compete with the new standards set at the Hopkins. American medical schools, the doctors they produced, and the field of medicine for the entire world progressed dramatically, and by the eve of World War I American medicine rivaled that of Europe. Millions of patients have survived previously fatal conditions like mine because the standards of the day were directly challenged by one new university and a group of visionary leaders in the medical field.

Where would the field of medicine in the U.S. be today if our higher education leaders had continued to accept mediocrity and even deaths of patients killed by incompetent doctors for another decade, or even five more decades? Though not nearly as dramatic a change is required, our institutions of higher learning are at a turning point when it comes to campus safety. After years of not being the priority it should be at many institutions, campus safety is being reevaluated because of a single horrific event. Many colleges and universities have finally begun to embrace multidisciplinary threat assessment, even though the concept has been working reliably in K–12 schools since 1991. This is only one example of the types of significant and life-saving changes that are taking place at progressive institutions of higher learning across the nation. Hopefully, the improvements in campus safety, security, and emergency preparedness will also be significant and lasting.

Today’s Harvard School of Medicine is a world-class educational program because past campus leaders accepted the need for change and achieved greatness for the program. Hopefully, the bar will continue to rise for safety at our nation’s institutions of higher learning as well.

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at