“Strange potency” of Tucson’s desert sun and air drew health enthusiasts

Tucson Medical Center is marking its 70th anniversary this year, commemorating the day its first patient was admitted, on Nov. 9, 1944.


Years before Tucson Medical Center was born, a world-renowned health care institution – the Desert Sanatorium – grew on this “remote site” out in the desert, four miles east of Tucson’s city limits.

The Desert Sanatorium grew out of the vision of one man: Bernard L. Wyatt, M.D. He pursued his interest in treating tuberculosis and other ailments with Arizona’s sunlight and clean air, creating the Desert San in 1925.dr wyatt 1920

Why did he choose Tucson as the site of his institution? As Wyatt later wrote in a single long vivid sentence, his choice was “…the result of studying the strange potency of that Arizona mesa land, a continuation of the Sonoran desert across the Mexican border, where for years in increasing numbers have poured invalids and semi-invalids, particularly old people, eager to luxuriate in warm, dry air, half a mile above sea level and in a baking sun whose blazing light has set countless artists crazy in the endeavor to put on canvas the hard outlines and color of the southwest desert scenery.”

Wyatt’s role at the Desert Sanatorium changed from owner to physician director in 1927 when he conveyed the title to the new owner, his financial backer, Alfred W. Erickson. And in 1943, it was Erickson’s widow, Anna, who donated the Desert Sanatorium to the community, provided a public fundraising campaign could support the institution. By late 1944, Tucson Medical Center was fully operational as our community non-profit hospital, still basking in the ‘strange potency’ of the desert environment.


Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461