Donald E. Wilson came close to quitting medical school in his first six months because he didn't see how classes so boring and abstract could prepare him for the patients he wanted to treat.
Now he has a chance to reform medical school education. The 54-year-old internist was appointed dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine yesterday, and he named curriculum reform as his No. 1 goal.
The new head of the $100 million-a-year operation, a specialist in gastroenterology with expertise in treating ulcers, had decided that he wanted to be a doctor at age 7 after recovering from a serious illness.
"Doctors in those days did not know a lot about what was really wrong with you," Dr. Wilson said, drawing laughter from about 200 faculty and staff members at the medical school who had gathered yesterday to congratulate him.
He is to take over in September at a salary of $225,000. The medical school is one of six professional schools on the campus of the University of Maryland at Baltimore. UMAB President Errol L. Reese made yesterday's announcement.
Dr. Wilson is currently chief physician for two New York hospitals and also professor and chairman of medicine of the State University of New York Health Science Center in Brooklyn. For the past few months, he has been on sabbatical at the Rockville-based Agency for Health Care Policy and Research.
A native of Worcester, Mass., Dr. Wilson graduated from Harvard University in 1954 and received his medical degree from Tufts University in 1962.
He is believed by university officials to be the nation's first black dean of a historically mostly white medical school. Dr. Wilson said this ''provides an opportunity to be probably more helpful to the minority community than not.'' He said that he joined SUNY in 1980 as one of two blacks, and that today 20 percent of the faculty doctors are black.
Dr. Wilson was selected from among 145 applicants and nominees in a second search for dean. The first was aborted when the campus president's nominee, Harvard surgeon Dr. August White, withdrew in a flap with University of Maryland regents over the campus future.
In addition to pushing curriculum reform -- a major concern among faculty at Maryland and many other medical schools around the country -- Dr. Wilson said he hoped to introduce ethics early in student training. He called Maryland an exciting school that has made rapid progress in recent years.
"This, for me, is a great honor," he said.