The Duke University Medical Center first opened its doors to receive patients in 1930. However, it traces its roots back to 1925, when industrialist James Buchanan Duke added a $4 million bequest to the Duke Endowment for the establishment of a medical school, a nursing school and a hospital.
James B. Duke's dream was to create the best medical institution between Baltimore and New Orleans. Durham already had two hospitals, Watts and Lincoln. Duke, however, wanted to build the largest hospital in the city, offering specialized medical care. Some experts were skeptical about the idea of a medical facility of this size, claiming that the area of Durham was not densely populated enough to support it. But soon this proved to be wrong. Patients were willing to travel, and by 1932, Duke's Hospital had received more than 10,000 patients. Less than five years after its opening, in 1935 the American Medical Association ranked Duke among the top 20 medical facilities in the country.
In the following years, many medical advancements took place in this hospital. In 1936, a team of doctors introduced for the first time ultraviolet light to kill germs in the operating room, reducing the number of fatal post-operative infections. The development of a vaccine against equine encephalomyelitis in 1937, and the first cardiac surgery using systemic hypothermia to bring a patient's body temperature down in 1956, are among the many medical achievements in Duke Hospital's history.