For more than 150 years, the McLennan County Medical Society has kept alive a robust professional medical community in Central Texas, ensuring the best care for patients throughout the Waco area.
From the arrival of Texas's earliest non-native inhabitants, medicine has played an important role in the state's history. In addition to the myriad dangers of frontier life, diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and small pox relentlessly plagued early settlers. When McLennan County was founded in 1850, most communities relied upon a single physician to provide the full spectrum of medical care. Often, these local doctors lacked the education necessary to effectively treat their patients. As the number of area residents grew, doctors recognized the need for an organization to ensure the credentials of practicing physicians, and formed the Waco Medical Association in 1866.
The association was among the first in a wave of Texas medical organizations designed to both standardize and modernize the medical field. Society meetings provided a space in which doctors could discuss new medical developments, hear scientific presentations, and establish lasting relationships with other members of the profession. At the turn of the century, the American Medical Association restructured its organization in an attempt to boost societal participation at the county and state levels. Waco Medical Association physicians joined thousands of American doctors in adapting to these changes, officially voting to become the McLennan County Medical Society in 1903. The structure of MCMS would change even further when in 1915 the society welcomed Waco’s first licensed female physician, Hallie Earle, into the medical community.
MCMS's first decades saw a shift away from the house calls of yesteryear toward the modern office-based model, both in McLennan County and across the nation. Waco’s first medical offices, located at Fourth Street and Franklin Avenue, were built in 1892, followed by Providence Hospital in 1904 and the ALICO building (which housed several doctors’ offices) in 1910. Texas medical care became even more accessible in the 1920s and 30s thanks to the increasing prevalence of automobiles. Furthermore, the number of local medical facilities quickly multiplied as such sites as the Veterans Administration Hospital cropped up throughout the Waco area. These strides in infrastructure and transportation meant that patients were able to access adequate medical care more easily than ever. During this time, he quality of patient care improved drastically following the advent of the X-ray and modern operating rooms. These advancements gradually encouraged doctors to adopt a specialty; some chose to focus on certain groups of patients (such as women or children), while others opted to focus on specific illnesses or parts of the body.
These medical advancements, however, paled in comparison with those that arrived after midcentury; within a few short decades, nearly every medical specialty would be radically transformed, altering the medical arena for both patients and practitioners alike. New discoveries in cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery led to the building of Waco's first heart clinic in 1950, and, twenty years later, to the performing of Waco's first open-heart surgery. Advancements such as the Salk and Sabine vaccines all but eradicated polio, while improvements in mammography and chemotherapy drastically raised chances for the recovery of cancer patients. Additionally, the burgeoning field of fiber optics constituted a virtual revolution in specialties such as endocrinology, urology, and orthopedics. These emerging technologies required increasingly narrow and intensified focus from doctors. Thus, many specialties that began in the 1920s began to split even further into the subspecialties we know today.
Concurrently, the combination of MCMS's thriving medical community and Waco's small-town feel attracted many doctors looking to begin new practices while raising their families away from the chaos of bigger cities. The dearth of young physicians in the area also allowed an increasing number of these up-and-comers to establish themselves as subspecialists well versed in the latest medical techniques and technologies. The Waco medical community experienced yet another growth spurt in the years that followed. As hospitals multiplied in number and size, the presence of salaried physicians they employed grew as well, in contrast to the predominately private employment of Waco physicians in years past.
By the time the twentieth century came to a close, membership in the local medical society was no longer necessary in order for area doctors to obtain hospital privileges. These shifts however, did not spell the end of MCMS. While the society no longer stands as the single defining standard of medical involvement in McLennan County, much of its function and purpose remain. Indeed, the McLennan County Medical Society continues to cultivate a local medical community, holding up the highest standard in the profession and safeguarding the heritage of Waco medicine.