At a time of dreams and in lace for challenge, Gloria Butler looked at the laboratory floor and recalled images from her childhood in rural Mississippi. She slowly nodded her head Yes, people have a right to good health.

Like 23 other fisherman medical students, the 22-year old from Forest, Miss., feels the special pressure to succeed that pioneers in many endeavors know. She is excited by the promise of a new educational enterprise, and she is quietly optimistic.

"I plan to go back to my hometown, which is in a rural area where physicians are really needed," she said, expressing her version of what has become the unofficial motto for her new school.

The school, which opens today, isthe first predominantly black medical school to be found in this century. Its mission is primary health care - physicians to work in inner-city districts and in the South's impoverished, sparsely populated outback.

Headquarters for the mission has the official name of School of Medicine at Morehouse College.

Dr. Louis W. Sullivan dean and director of the school, said his institution may also be the last medical school founded in this century in the United States, since the annual output of physicians has risen nationwide to a level generally recognized as sufficient by the medical community.

But Sullivan, said that of the 370,000 physicians practicing in the country only 6,600 - less than 2 percent - are black, although blacks constitute at least 11 percent of the population.

Sullivan is balding and has exacting, deep voice: It does not boom.It articulates with precision and authority.

The 44-year-old Atlanta native has a complex concern for the success of his efforts at Morehouse, from which he was graduated, magna cum laude, in 1954.

If he is successful, if his faculty and staff perform well, ifthe students achieve, then the medical school some day may become a full partner in the Atlanta University Center - the largest consortium in the world of private black institutions of higher learing.

Morehouse, one of the center's six member institutions, was the under-graduate school of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., of his father, of Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, of Georgia state Sen. Julian Bond and of 6 percent of the black physicians in the United States.

In July 1975, Sullivan thrust himself into the vortex of developing the medical school. He returned to Atlanta from Massachusetts, where he had been a professor of medicine at Boston University. He received his medical degree (cum laude) therein 1958.

He returned to Morehouse with teaching experience at Harvard and the New Jersey College of Medicine. Sullivan has never had a private medical practice, but has treated patients in hospitals and university settings. His specially is hematology. Or was. Now it is administration.

"We will be starting as a two-year school," he said in an interview. "We have agreements with Emory University's medical school here in Atlanta, the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. Howard in Washington and Meharry (Medical Center) in Nashville. We have guaranteed places at these schools, and our students will transfer for their third and fourth years.

"They will be transfering there until the mid-1980s, when we plan to have developed into a four-year school, and to be awarding our M.D. degree by 1987. By that time, our class size will be up to 96 students, our projected mature-class size." Twenty-four students are in the initial freshman class.

Precedent for this gradual implementation is easy to find, he said. The M.D. awarding schools of Dartmouth, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota and South Dakota began as two-year institutions.

As for the massive task of initiating a medical school, Sullivan narrowed his eyes and spore seriously: "It's a once-in-a-lifetime job."

Asked whether the $35 million identified as five-year operational costs for fewer than 200 students might not be better spent recruiting minority students for medical schools with established excellence, Sullivan replied:

"In spite of tremendous efforts and expenditures on the part of all medical schools, they have fallen short of the goals set in 1970 by the Association of American Medical Colleges to increase the percentage of minority students enrolled in medical schools to 12 percent.

"We reached a peak of 10 percent in 1974, and this has fallen back to around 8 percent now - 6.2 percent are black, and the rest are Chicanos, Asian Americans and other minorities.

"The other medical schools have not done the job. Therefore, it is our thesis that the establishment of this school in the Atlanta University Center, which has a total of 8,000 students, almost of all them black, will have the greatest impact over the long range in term, of increasing the number of black physicians. The medical school will be right here where the students are."

The Morehouse medical school has a special program to buttress its students, academic achievements. Tutorial programs are the key to a supportive, almost family environment.

"We know we've got to perform," said R. Adair Blackwood, 29, one of three whites among the 24 charter students. "It's something we're all going to do. There's a zeal here. . . We know we're going to be judged against national standards."

In the past, some medical schools have had fierce academic contesting among students. Morehouse hopes they cooperation, not competition, gently guided achievement not hardened rivaly, will be the way. A nationally administered examination, given to medical students across the country at the end of the two years, will be the first major measurement for the infant medical school.

On the question of quality, one of Atlanta's medical leaders, John P. Wilson, chairman of the surgery department at Georgia Baptist Medical Center and a teacher at Emory's medical school, commented, "Nobody is going to go back and worry about where these students got their first two years of medical school, if they go on and are able to graduate from one of the accepted schools. They'll have degrees from Emory, the Medical College of Georgia or one of the others."

The testing at the end of the second year "won't prove quality, but it is about as good an indicator we have on the pre-clinical academic progress of the first two years," he said.

Another quality index is faculty training. Sullivan said his teaching staff has 25 members, including 18 who are full-time. Five of the 25 have M.D. degrees and the remainder have Ph. D.s., he said. Seven of the 25 are black, one is Hispanic and the rest are white Salaries for the teaching faculty range from $15,000 to $40,000, said. Sullivan's annual salary is $50,000.

The national accrediting agency for medical schools is the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which operates under the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges.

"We hope to expand each year, go to 32 students next year," said Sullivan. "We will have annual visits by the accrediting committee. At the moment, we have 'provinsional accreditation', which is the highest rating we can have at this stage in our development."

Barreras like wall posters. Among his collect is one with a quote from Virgil, displayed for all 24 students to read: They can because they think they can.