Showcasing the stethoscope’s evolution

Faculty, medical students, local historians and community members came together on October 18 to listen to Dr. Jacalyn Duffin, Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine at Queen’s University, at the second annual Visiting Speaker Series presented by the History of Medicine Office.

The practising physician captivated the audience with her lecture entitled “The Stethoscope at 200: A Revolutionary Device Now Obsolete?”

Invented in Paris in 1816 by René Laennec, the stethoscope made anatomical changes accessible at the bedside and fostered a revolution in thinking about disease. Drawing from her book, To See with a Better Eye: A Life of R.T.H. Laennec, Dr. Duffin underscored how Laennec provided a language for physicians to articulate organic alterations inside living patients’ bodies. The stethoscope has undergone many modifications since its early days as a single, hollow cylinder.

“Dr. Duffin delivered a spectacular lecture, exploring an important historical event and connected it to diagnostic practices at the bedside today,” commented Shelley McKellar, Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. “Her banter and engagement with the audience demonstrated her mastery of getting students and others excited about medical history, drawing out important themes and issues that continue to be relevant today. Her lecture was a great hit.”

Dr. Duffin ended her presentation by raising questions about the contemporary relevance of the stethoscope alongside new portable imaging devices, leading to a lively Q&A session.

Several physicians in attendance pointed to the significance of the stethoscope as a tool for the performance of medicine beyond its clinical use, identifying the continued expectations of patients today to be checked by the device at appointments.

Alex Pavlosky, Medicine Class of 2019, presented a 3D-printed stethoscope to a delighted Dr. Duffin. Audience members had the opportunity to view the modern, lightweight device up close, as well as an early wooden monaural stethoscope.

During her visit to the School, Dr. Duffin also met with the Osler Society, a history of medicine interest group for Schulich Medicine students, for a lunchtime session to discuss her investigation into the recent history of the Canadian drug shortage. Duffin has published her work on drug shortages in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and been interviewed on this topic by the CBC and The Globe and Mail. More than 30 medical students attended the meeting.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for the students to spend some quality time speaking with Dr. Duffin," said Shauna Devine, PhD, Assistant Professor in the History of Medicine at Schulich Medicine & Dentistryl. "In particular, they enjoyed learning about the important impact that the study of medical history had on her development and shaping as a practising hematologist.”

Established in 2015, the Visiting Speaker Series is a donor-sponsored event that brings distinguished medical historians to Western University to deliver public lectures to the medical community, significantly adding to the intellectual culture and education experience of Schulich Medicine students and faculty.

Enjoy a photo gallery featuring special moments from the events. Can’t see the slideshow below? Click here.