This year, the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine celebrated 150 years of excellence in medical education, research and patient care. In celebration, this winter The Appendix will be highlighting stories and photographs from Carver history.
This year, the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine is celebrating 150 years of excellence in medical education, research and patient care. Medical education at the UI Carver College of Medicine dates back to 1870 when it welcomed its first class of medical students. More information about the UI Carver College of Medicine’s history can be found at www.medicine.uiowa.edu/150. As a second-year medical student fully engrossed in the medical education process, I was curious how my educational experience compares to that of a student who graduated many years before. To answer this question, I virtually sat down with Charles Argo, MD, who graduated in 1967 from the University of Iowa College of Medicine.
Dr. Argo is the oldest of 8 siblings who grew up on a farm in Moravia, IA. They raised hogs, hereford cattle, dairy cows, sheep, chickens, two large gardens, and even had an orchard. His house did not have electricity until the late 1940s and did not have indoor plumbing until the early 1960s. Now, he recognizes that they did not have much money growing up but never thought of themselves as a poor family. Rather, he learned the value of having a good work ethic which would come to serve him well during his years in medical school and as a practicing Family Medicine physician.
As a family with relatively little money, Dr. Argo does not remember going to the doctor unless severely ill or injured. On one occasion when he was sick, he went to see Dr. Anthony Owca in Centerville, IA, but when it came time to pay, the fee was waived. Dr. Owca’s generosity is something that Dr. Argo remembers to this day. However, the driving force behind his interest in medicine occurred when he was seventeen years old in June of 1958, the summer between his junior and senior year of high school. He was transporting a wagon of hay on the family farm when he was involved in a tractor accident where he was trapped under the tractor for at least an hour. A hearse finally came to pick him up and take him to the Centerville Emergency Department since the hospital did not have an ambulance. Dr. Argo distinctly remembers that rather than the saline IV bags that are used now, he was hooked up to glass bottles filled with saline held by Dr. Owca as they rode in the hearse to Ottumwa.
Dr. Argo spent the next three months in the St. Joseph Hospital in Ottumwa, IA. He was in a coma for two weeks; his family unsure if or when he would fully recover. He had third-degree burns on his left leg, left arm, and left back, as well as foot drop from burn injury to the common peroneal nerve, a multi-fractured pelvis, and a ruptured bladder. During his time in the hospital, he had regular burn debridement which often left the room with an unpleasant aroma of decaying flesh. His mother even brought room deodorizers to help allay the stench.
During those three months, he laid in his hospital bed reflecting on what had happened to him. When he was pinned under the tractor, he remembers bargaining with God and offering to do anything in exchange for his life. It was as he laid in that hospital bed that he realized what God wanted him to do: be a physician. At the time, Dr. Argo knew nothing about going to medical school. No one in his family was in the healthcare field. In fact, his rehabilitation team told him that he did not have the aptitude to be a doctor, would always walk with a limp, and always have a dysfunctional left arm. He only knew that the surgeon who had been overseeing his care, Dr. Herbert Wormhoudt, went to Central College in Pella, IA, and then continued at the University of Iowa College of Medicine. This was enough to set him on a course that would culminate in earning his Doctor of Medicine from the University of Iowa College of Medicine as well.
Dr. Argo studied chemistry and was on the pre-medicine track at Central College in Pella, IA. Dr. Argo remembers that at the time, some students could complete three years of undergraduate studies at state colleges and then use their first year of medical school to complete their Bachelor of Science degree. He brought this up to his pre-medicine advisor at Central but was told that he could not do that. He would have to spend all four years at Central to receive his Bachelor of Art degree in chemistry. While dismayed by this answer at the time, he now feels grateful to have had the time to take classes outside the sciences such as English history, music appreciation, religion, and art appreciation. “Generally speaking you’re going to have a lot of different kinds of people and status and levels of education, financial situations, and their cultural exposures,” he says. He believes exposure to subjects in the humanities are an important aspect of the personal and professional development necessary to be more holistic providers for our patients.
At the end of his second year at Central College, he met his wife, Jean, who majored in math and minored in Latin. They got engaged between his third and fourth year and married shortly after graduation on August 16, 1963 before he began medical school that fall. During his fourth year at Central, he applied to two medical schools: the University of South Dakota College of Medicine and the University of Iowa College of Medicine. He remembers paying a small fee for his application to the USD College of Medicine but really had his attention on the UI College of Medicine as his first choice school. He submitted his written application and transcripts along with an MCAT score. The final piece of the application process, still unchanged today, was the interview. Dr. Argo remembers his interview was conducted by a psychiatrist who asked him all kinds of questions about his life, not about his aptitude for medical school. When he left after an hour or so of conversation, he felt like he had failed the interview since he had not talked about his suitability for a career in medicine. His admission later that fall of 1962 to the University of Iowa College of Medicine’s class of 1967 said otherwise. His class of 1967 began with 120 students and graduated 114 of them. He remembers there were 7 women in his class and 19 out-of-state students, one of which was a woman from Germany.
He moved to Iowa City, IA, with Jean and lived in an 8 feet x 40 feet trailer in the Dennis Trailer Court on the east side of Iowa City. This was just three blocks north of the school where Jean taught 8th grade math and 9th grade Latin. He also bought his first car after his graduation from Central College. It was an aqua, white, and gold 1958 Ford Fairlane 500 which lasted him just through his final year of medical school when it stopped working. There were a few of his classmates living there as well, so they often carpooled during the first two years to campus, a campus that differed significantly from today’s medical campus.
“There was no Pappajohn, no Stead,” he says, referring to the Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building and the Stead Family Children’s Hospital. He remembers the main General Hospital with its large wards, Boyd Tower, the Medical Research building, the Medical Laboratories building, the Psychopathic Hospital (now the Medical Education Building), and the VA Hospital comprising the campus at the time. There were no learning communities like the ones that decorate the halls of the first floor of the Medical Education and Research Facility now. Rather, they had classrooms that could also be used for studying after the classes had finished. Dr. Argo did most of his studying at a plywood desk in his trailer, but when on campus, he spent his time studying at the library. Readers familiar with the medical school campus might think he is referring to the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences, but this structure did not yet exist. It was Robert C. Hardin, a dean of the College of Medicine while Dr. Argo was in medical school, who advocated for a new health science library building that was finished in 1974 (University of Iowa Libraries).
The first two years of his medical education was strictly bookwork. He rotated through classes for histology, anatomy, neurology, biochemistry, and labs for histology and anatomy. In his anatomy lab, the students were in groups of six as determined by the alphabet. He was in a group with five other students from the beginning of the alphabet learning from a donor cadaver and using Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy as their guide. One of his favorite memories from medical school was during a histology test. He remembers sitting down to a stack of papers more than a foot deep. One of his classmates stood up and started to walk out, but then he turned around and came back to sit down. “I think it’s probably good because I do think there would have been several that would have followed him because it seemed to be so overwhelming,” he shared.
After his first year, he conducted research with the Obstetrics department to determine if bradykinin, a peptide that promotes inflammation, was present in the amniotic fluid of women and was the initiator of labor. He remembers they collected amniotic fluid from patients and it was not present, proving it was not the causative agent of onset of labor. He really enjoyed his research experience but felt more motivated by patient care. The summer following his second year, he shadowed at a Family Medicine Group Practice in Iowa City.
During the second two years, he spent his time on clinical rotations through departments like surgery, pediatrics, neurology, internal medicine, ENT, OB-GYN, urology, psychiatry, dermatology, radiology, anesthesiology, orthopedics, and ophthalmology. He remembers spending the most time on rotations with surgery and internal medicine. He also fondly remembers being a student of Dr. Rubin Flocks, head of the Urology department and after whom one of the current Learning Communities is named. Dr. Argo remembers Dr. Flocks as a kind, considerate, and good teacher to the medical students. Between his third and fourth years, he completed an externship at St. Luke’s in Cedar Rapids, IA, where he was exposed to the use of hypnosis in medicine for allergies, rashes, headaches, and pain, for example.
Beyond his studies, he was involved in the Phi Beta Pi fraternity, which he jokes that he used for networking with his classmates farther down in the alphabet. This is where he would go for lunch while on campus and would also attend football games together. He and Jean were active in a couple churches, as well, during his time in Iowa City.
He graduated from the University of Iowa College of Medicine on June 9, 1967. He completed his Rotating Internship at the Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, WA, in one year rotating through medicine, surgery, obstetrics, and covering the Emergency Department. Dr. Argo then became a commissioned officer in the United States Public Health Service, specifically the Indian Health Division. He realized during these years just how well the University of Iowa College of Medicine prepared him when compared to some of his colleagues. For the next two years, he was stationed in Nespelem, WA, and cared for the Spokane Tribe of Indians and the Colville Tribes. The nurse that he worked with in Nespelem was from the Colville Tribes.
While he loved living and working in the Spokane area, after two years they decided to move back to Iowa to be closer to family. He had two children, a girl and a boy, and he wanted them to be able to spend time with their grandparents. He began practicing as a general practice physician at the Mahaska County Hospital and Family Medical Center in Oskaloosa, IA, on July 1, 1970. He was certified and fulfilled membership requirements for the American Academy of General Practice (AAGP) in June of 1971. However, the AAGP later became the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) in October of 1971.
Dr. Argo began working in Oskaloosa with 3 other doctors which eventually grew to 11 doctors and 2 physician assistants by the time he retired on July 1, 2007. He confesses that he was a workaholic when he first arrived in Oskaloosa, IA. As his kids got older and as more providers joined the practice, though, he found it easier to prioritize spending time with his family. He worked as a Family Medicine physician, delivered babies, and worked in the Emergency Department, too.
Since retiring, he has been active in farming, the local ruritan club, the County Board of Health, his church, his Homeowner’s Association Board, and the RED (Ready to Engage and Discover) Society Board & Committee through his undergraduate institution, Central College.
When asked about advice to give to current medical students, this is what he has to share with the next generation of healthcare providers: “Learn all you can at the Carver College of Medicine. That’s why you’re there. And then after graduation, keep on learning. You know, it doesn’t stop. And then I would definitely encourage that one be an advocate for patients…The biggest thing is providing the best care you can, and you’ll be able to do that by knowledge and being an advocate for them. We live in a society where there’s politics and insurance companies and all kinds of things that get in the road of being able to provide care. The best medical care comes from the dialogue between the patient and doctor, and then providing the best care that the patient and the doctor mutually agree upon, not of the third-parties having sway in those decisions.”
University of Iowa Libraries. “History of the Libraries: Health Sciences.” The University of Iowa Libraries, 2020, https://www.lib.uiowa.edu/history/branches/hardin/.
About the Author
Claire Carmichael is a second year medical student at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.