Medicine in the Big Easy: Charity Hospital and medical education

Hope Brusstar, Copy Editor

On Friday, Nov. 17, the Department of Biological Sciences invited Tulane Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics Brian Credo to talk with students of biology and other disciplines about what to expect of medical school. His talk was titled “Medicine in the Big Easy: Reflections on Charity Hospital and Medical Education Today.”

In 1982, Credo graduated from UNO with a B.S. in biological sciences, and he was pleased to be able to give back. “I owe a great deal of debt to UNO,” said the doctor of pediatrics. Looking around the lecture room, he said, “I took microbiology in this room. It looks about the same.”

Credo began his address to the student audience with some relevant remarks about Charity Hospital. “It is impossible to talk about medicine [in Louisiana] without talking about Charity Hospital,” said Credo.

Built in 1736, it was the oldest hospital in the United States, aside from Bellevue Hospital of New York City, which was established that same year. It was originally founded on a grant from French shipbuilder Jean Louis, who left money to build a hospital for the poor in the colony of New Orleans. Currently, Charity Hospital has been abandoned ever since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.

“Charity has a very interesting, colorful history,” added Credo. “People would come from other states and other countries to be treated there.”

He showed several pictures of the hospital and its ambulance, explaining that the balconies were built to let tuberculosis patients get air, and that the courtyard had two purposes: it served as a path for the nuns’ daily rosaries and fisticuff grounds for the doctors to settle debates over patient diagnoses.

He spoke of Huey P. Long, “Kingfish” and 40th governor of Louisiana, who distrusted most of the doctors in the state, as he knew that they were all educated at Tulane. When Long was shot — either accidentally by a bodyguard, or intentionally after a fight with a Tulane doctor — he demanded that his head of medicine visit him all the way from Baton Rouge, and the two days that Long waited may have been fatal. The long-awaited surgery did not save him, and he died on Sept. 10, 1935.”


There is still a debate about whether the surgery was performed properly,” noted Credo. “The humanities will always have an important section in medicine.”

Credo then discussed his own experiences with medical school. “Every doctor, no matter who you are, gets assigned to Charity Hospital’s accident room,” he said. “Room Four was a tiny little room with wooden swinging doors where gunshots and [accident wounds] were treated.” He explained that most Room Four teams wanted at least one surgeon when dealing with wounds. But his team included himself, a psychiatrist, an obstetrician and a dentist — no surgeon. Despite the odds, he said, “Our records were just as good as [those of] any other team.” He stressed that this taught an important lesson. “Even as a pre-med, if you’ve got something that’s giving you a problem, you can overcome it.”

Credo also explained the ins-and-outs of getting into medical school. He discussed Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores, explaining that a score below 499 is “a rough score to apply with,” while “514-515 is considered a great score.” The total score for the MCAT ranges between 472 and 528.

Credo then discussed statistics about the most recently accepted class in Tulane’s School of Medicine to help pre-med students get an idea of what is expected of applicants. Among the accepted undergraduates, the most common majors were biology, psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, chemistry and biochemistry, with 26 percent of the class having been non-science majors.

This class of 2021 consists of 89 young women and 101 young men, the average MCAT score was 510, and the average GPA was 3.57. Credo discussed similar admission stats for LSU, and explained that students should stay positive during the application process. For people in his own graduating class, “it was common to apply more than once,” said Credo. The average student sitting in a desk next to him had already been rejected at least once. “[Admissions officers] don’t like people who, if don’t get everything they want, quit and stop trying.”

Credo also mentioned the importance of including  one’s personality in the application. For admissions officers, he said, “The people who are applying are telling you who they are. … Don’t leave yourself behind when you’re going through the application process.”

Because bedside manner is such an important part of being a doctor or nurse, Credo explained to the pre-med students that “your patients need all those things that make you a wonderful person.” He described applications that detailed, aside from a student’s qualifications for medical school, their experience cooking souffles or writing poetry.

A question-and-answer session ensued, and one student inquired about writing personal statements on the application. “Let your personal self shine through,” Credo stressed. “They want to know who you are. Also, put what’s important to you and write down what you think the values of a physician should be.”

Credo closed the discussion by encouraging students to contact him. “If you want to see the inside [of Tulane’s medical school] – meet a particular physician you’ve read about – if I can ever help you in any way, please let me know.”

Dr. Wendy Schluchter, the chair of the department of biological sciences, expressed deep satisfaction with Credo’s visit. “I met him [when] I did a crowdfunding campaign for STEM scholars, and he got in touch and wanted to give back. …UNO meant so much to him.” For her, getting into medical school is a path with many different types of obstacles.  

“Classwork is part of it, but getting experience and hands-on with patients is just as important. [Students need] to focus on the whole picture,” Schluchter said.