History

Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State Hershey Medical Center have a rich history of academic achievement. Learn how we started and have grown to be one of the nation's premier academic health centers.

Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine have a rich history of academic achievement.

Learn how we started and have grown to be one of the nation's premier university-affiliated health systems.

It all began with the fabled "$50 Million Phone Call".

 

The “$50 million phone call”

Samuel L. Hinkle, left, president and chairman of the Hershey Chocolate Corporation, reenacts his 1963 phone call to Penn State president Dr. Eric E. Walker in which he invited Walker to discuss establishing a medical school and teaching hospital in Hershey. The M. S. Hershey Foundation gave a $50 million gift to The Pennsylvania State University for the project. With this grant and $21.3 million from the U.S. Public Health Service, the University built Penn State College of Medicine and the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Founding dean and CEO George Harrell, M.D., pictured here in 1966, oversees initial construction of the Medical Center and College of Medicine.
Founding dean and CEO Dr. George Harrell, pictured in 1966, oversees initial construction of the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine.

Penn State College of Medicine opened its doors to the first class of students in 1967.

Eight medical students stand and wear caps and gowns at Penn State College of Medicine’s first graduation ceremony in 1971. Folding chairs are behind each of them. On the left, a man kisses a woman on the cheek.

Penn State College of Medicine’s first class graduates in 1971.

This is Penn State Health

An aerial view of Penn State Children's Hospital (left), Hershey Medical Center (center) and Penn State Cancer Institute (right). A large sculpture is in a grassy area across from the Children’s Hospital. A road and covered walkway are in front of the three buildings.

Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center accepted its first patient on Oct. 14, 1970. Forty-four years later, the Penn State Board of Trustees formed Penn State Health, a multi-facility health system that today serves communities in 29 central Pennsylvania counties and employs more than 14,500 people. The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center is recognized as one of the nation's premier university health centers, providing high-level, patient-focused medical care. Its Hershey campus includes Penn State Children’s Hospital, the region’s only children’s hospital; institutes focused on cancer, heart and vascular disease and the neurosciences; and Penn State College of Medicine.

Additionally, Penn State Health operates Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital, a joint venture with Select Medical, and Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, which provides inpatient and outpatient behavioral health services.

The exterior of the Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center is framed by redbud trees in bloom in April 2017. A sign on the building includes the Nittany Lion shield with the year 1855 on it.

In 2015, Penn State Health acquired St. Joseph Regional Health Network in Berks County. Penn State Health St. Joseph includes an acute care hospital in Bern Township, Pa., and a downtown Reading campus. The rapidly growing health system expanded once again in 2017 to acquire Physicians’ Alliance LTD, the largest independent physician practice group in Lancaster County. That same year, Penn State Health partnered with Highmark Health to facilitate the creation of a value-based, community care network in the region. Penn State Health now encompasses more than 2,000 physicians and direct care providers at more than 100 medical office locations. 

Eight medical students stand and wear caps and gowns at Penn State College of Medicine’s first graduation ceremony in 1971. Folding chairs are behind each of them. On the left, a man kisses a woman on the cheek.

A three-floor expansion to Penn State Children’s Hospital will provide space for the new Women and Babies Center, a Level IV neonatal intensive care unit and more beds for seriously ill and injured kids.

To meet a steady increase in patient demand for services, Hershey Medical Center is expanding its Emergency Department and Children’s Hospital. The $49 million ED expansion project will add 28,000 square feet of space and is slated for completion by summer 2020. The three-floor, $148-million-dollar Children’s Hospital expansion is expected to be complete by fall 2020.

Seven people stand in a row using ceremonial shovels to toss dirt in the air at the Penn State Health Hampden Medical Center groundbreaking. Behind them is a large construction plan rendering of the new hospital on March 29, 2019. From left are Dr. Craig Hillemeier, former dean of Penn State College of Medicine, chief executive officer of Penn State Health and Penn State’s senior vice president for health affairs, an unidentified man and woman from the community; Alan Brechbill, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Penn State Health; Al Beinstock, a former Hampden Township commissioner; Deb Rice-Johnson, president of Highmark Inc.; and Dr. James Tucker with Penn State Health Medical Group ― Camp Hill.

In March 2019, the health system broke ground on Penn State Health Hampden Medical Center, a 108-bed community hospital that is expected to open to patients in Hampden Township, Cumberland County, in 2021. Taking another step forward as a regional health network, Penn State Health announced in July 2019 plans to build a new acute care hospital in East Hempfield Township, Lancaster County.

Three medical students wearing lab coats examine a manikin in the Penn State College of Medicine Clinical Simulation Center. A young woman in the front puts a stethoscope on his chest. The man next to her is wearing a stethoscope around his neck, and the man next to him is looking at them. The manikin is lying on an examining table. A monitor is next to them.

Penn State Health shares an integrated strategic plan and operations with Penn State College of Medicine. Faculty and physicians at the College of Medicine and Hershey Medical Center integrate the latest biomedical knowledge and technology with compassionate care of patients, while educating the next generation of scientists and physicians.

A woman researcher holds two test tubes filled with colorful liquid in front of her face. She has shoulder-length hair and is wearing glasses and surgical gloves. The test tubes have measurement markings.

The College of Medicine boasts a portfolio of nearly $100 million in funded research and more than 1,700 students and trainees in medicine, nursing, other health professions and biomedical research at its Hershey campus and a regional medical campus in State College.

 Dr. Willis Willard touches the foot of a boy who is seated on an exam table. Two nurses wearing short-sleeved uniforms stand on either side of Dr. Willard. He is wearing a suit, tie and glasses. The boy is smiling and wearing a jacket with a string hanging down. The nurse on the left is wearing a nurse’s cap and has her eyes closed. The nurse on the right is wearing horn-rimmed glasses.

Dr. Willis Willard treats a young patient in the Family and Community Medicine outpatient clinic in 1968.

The College of Medicine was the first in the nation to have a dedicated Department of Humanities and a Department of Family and Community Medicine. It recruits faculty members who are internationally known for their accomplishments in research, education and patient care.

Penn State College of Medicine offers doctor of philosophy degrees in anatomy, biomedical sciences, biostatistics, epidemiology and neuroscience; an MD/PhD Medical Scientist Training Program; a physician assistant master’s degree program; and master’s degrees in anatomy, clinical research, laboratory animal medicine and public health. Each year, approximately 560 resident physicians are trained in medical specialties at Hershey Medical Center. 

Continuing education programs serve health care professionals throughout Pennsylvania, with enrollment exceeding 39,000 each year. 

With every person, practice and partner that joins Penn State Health, it brings more high-quality clinical care, clinical trials and education to the people of central Pennsylvania and beyond.

Two nurses hold up a man as he stands using crutches in a hospital room. The nurse on the left has her hair in a braid and is wearing scrubs. The nurse on the right has long hair and is wearing scrubs. The man has his leg bandaged and is wearing a patient smock and has crutches under his arms. A hospital bed is behind them, and a monitor and chair are on the right.

Contact Us

For more information about the history of Penn State Health, please contact the Office of Marketing and Communications at 717-531-8606.