Schulich school of Medicine and Dentistry logo Undergraduate Medical Education Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry

A Brief History of the Medical School

1882-1920 – Origins & the Early Years

Medical lectures at the University began in October 1882, in the cottage and chapel of Huron College of the Anglican Diocese. During the first year, fifteen students were enrolled and equipment was meagre. By 1885 the number of students had increased to thirty-five, the reputation of the school was growing, and the faculty decided to procure a new building.

In 1888 the London Medical College was erected at the corner of York and Waterloo Streets at a cost of $9,500.00 (over $1 million dollars today correcting for inflation). The Medical Department’s faculty members raised the funds, with help from a city council grant.

The Faculty consisted of part-time teachers who had large clinical practices or other responsibilities. None had taught in a medical school up to this point, and any talent for teaching would become apparent with time. Each professor’s remuneration was proportioned to the number of lectures actually given. There were no full time faculty members and no regular salaries until 1913.


Additional Achievements:

1920-1960: Expansion and War-Time Medical Education

The London Medical College became inadequate, so a new building on Ottaway Avenue (South Street) was built in 1919. The building was thoroughly modern for the times, and it served the Faculty of Medicine for forty-four years with certain alterations being made after World War II. According to the London Free Press (March 26, 1921), “the anatomical department is the centre of the school, both in interest and importance. Skylights and concealed windows give light to the room where cadavers will be used to explain the mysterious make-up of the human body.”

Research became a major activity in the Faculty of Medicine, and interest in original work was a desired quality when appointments were made. There was a spirit of adventure in the air as a result of the discovery of insulin by Drs. Banting and Best in 1921. Dr. J. Bertram Collip, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine (1947-1961) was later responsible for the purification of insulin for clinical use.

Hospital training of medical students continued at St. Joseph’s and Victoria Hospitals. The organization in charge of extracurricular events had been known as the Student Body since 1915. In 1921, the name was changed to the Hippocratic Society and all students were members. The elected executive was named the Hippocratic Council. It was during this time that the Hippocratic Society began publishing the “University of Western Ontario Medical Journal,” which is still in publication today.

The Annual Meds Barbeque began with a basketball game between student and faculty teams. After the game each class put on a skit and a students’ orchestra performed between acts. A barbeque followed in the gymnasium with the Dean in a chef’s hat carving a roast of pig.

World War II affected the Faculty of Medicine significantly. Adjustments to wartime conditions included compulsory training in the Canadian Officers’ Training Corp, enlistment of senior students in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corp, and acceleration of the medical program. The staff complement of the Faculty of Medicine was depleted by the leave of absence of twenty-six faculty members and five technicians for most of the war years. Most members of faculty with research interests turned their attention to problems within their experience that might have some impact on war medicine.

During the war, extensive research on aviation medicine was carried out at Western, using such apparatus as a decompression chamber. Students volunteered as experimental subjects.

Dr. M. L. Barr graduated from Western in 1933 and became a Professor in the Department of Anatomy in 1949. It was in that year that Dr. Barr discovered the sex-chromatin, now known as the Barr Body.

With the end of the war, the Faculty began planning for expansion to accommodate the expected increase in enrolment in the years ahead: class size grew during this period to approximately 60 students per class. A period of unprecedented growth of the University of Western Ontario was accompanied in the Faculty of Medicine, expansion of teaching hospitals and innovations in student activities.


Additional Achievements:

1960-1980: Curriculum Renewal and Basic Principles

In 1964, the Faculty of Medicine moved from its location on South Street to its present location on the campus of the University of Western Ontario in the Medical Sciences Building.

The move to the University Campus was seen as an opportunity to give medical students the benefit of University Life. Once the move was completed, seventy-five students were accepted into the program. The number was increased to eighty-five in 1969. Because of the swelling number of highly-qualified applicants and the expansion of clinical teaching facilities, the size of the medical class grew to a few more than one hundred in 1972.

This period was one of curriculum review. By the middle of 1971, certain basic principles were agreed upon: a core curriculum of basic knowledge required by all physicians, the transfer of didactic clinical teaching to the first two years, a clinical clerkship in the third year, and in the final year an opportunity for students to learn in areas of personal interest. There was agreement with respect to the necessity of free-time that would encourage self-instruction. Electives, which required initiative on the part of the students, and greater emphasis on family medicine and the sociological aspects of medicine became part of the curriculum.

After the Faculty of Medicine’s move to the main University campus in 1964, University Hospital was built in 1972 by the London Health Association to provide an additional site for teaching, research and clinical care. Also, during this time period, the internationally renowned research facilities of the Lawson Research Institute and the Robarts Research Institute were created.

In 1965, the Faculty of Medicine reached out to distant parts of the world through a program known as Medical Electives Overseas Program. The program provided an opportunity for a few final year students to gain experience in developing countries. The first placement occurred in 1970 and the program continues today as the Office of Global Health. Currently, students have the opportunity to participate in electives in over 20 sites across five continents. Locations as diverse as northern Siberia and as close as local and national first nations communities compliment a full range of official curriculum and special events geared toward global health and the healthcare of remote and marginalized communities in Canada and abroad.

Med Merrymakers decided to stage an annual production in the Medical School Auditorium. The first performance of “Tachycardia” as we know it today was held on December 12th and 13th, 1955. Tachycardia consisted of skits by medical classes and nursing students; there were musical acts between the skits and the satirical nature of portraying members of faculty recalled the old-time barbeques of the South Street school location. The popularity of Tachycardia soon made it necessary to extend the performances from two to three nights.


Additional Achievements:

1980-2000 – Student Centred Learning & Patient Centred Teaching

The computer based learning centre was created in 1987 by Dean Leslie Valberg to provide a student-centred resource for independent learning and problem solving. It was one of the first of its kind in Canada. The centre was enlarged in 1993 and again in 2005 when new systems and training materials were added to an enhanced teaching space large enough for the entire medical class.

In 1997, a merged Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry was created. Curricular change continued with the introduction of new Patient-Centered curriculum. The Patient-Centred Clinical Method, which was developed by Dr. Ian McWhinney at the Centre for Studies in Family Medicine, has been internationally acknowledged as a paradigm shift in medical education and care.


Additional Achievements:

2000-2015 – Distributed Education and Preparing for the Future

The new millennium, like the 1920s and the 1960s, has become a period of growth in class size, teaching innovation, distribution of education, and a renewal the medical education curriculum.

Societal pressure and a shortage of physicians in South Western Ontario enabled the School to enhance its role in the larger community. In 2002, the South Western Ontario Medical Education Network (SWOMEN, now Distributed Education Network or “DEN”) was established formalizing medical training in urban centres such as Windsor and Sarnia, larger municipalities such as Chatham and Stratford and small, rural communities from Tobermory to Leamington and from St. Thomas to Goderich. Currently, students have the opportunity to learn in over 60 communities in South Western Ontario. Discovery Week ensures that all Year One students spend one week shadowing a Clinician teacher in the region. MedLincs provides High School Students with an opportunity to gain experience in health human resources as a means of early exposure to the field of medicine.

The early part of this period is marked with extraordinary philanthropy. In 2004, the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry became the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry to honour the $26 million gift from Mr. Seymour Schulich, which is allocated to student bursaries. This extraordinary gift ensures that the School has the lowest level of per capita student debt in Canada – a detail that is verified annually by the Canadian Graduate Questionnaire.

In 2003, the Undergraduate Medical Education program began the process of curriculum renewal. The traditional courses that were run by clinical and basic science departments were overhauled into a comprehensive, systems based curriculum. Everything from “Blood” to “Respiration & Airways” is taught as standalone courses with learning objectives and assessment mapped to Schulich graduating competencies. Course Leadership is routinely divided between a Clinical Science Chair and a Basic Science Chair.

The cornerstone for the future of teaching and learning – simulation – was laid in 2005 when the Don Rix Clinical Skills Learning Building was opened – not only as a home for the growing research division of the medical school and the Dean’s Office – but as a state of the art clinical simulation facility.

Reaffirming a commitment to addressing physician shortages and a desire to grow class size, the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry became one of the first schools in Canada to have a fully integrated cohort of students and faculty at a distributed site with the launch of the Windsor Program in 2008. Since 2012, the first three cohorts have graduated with a perfect CaRMS match rate. Windsor faculty sit on all governance committees of the Undergraduate Medical Education Program. Course Coordinators serve with Course Chairs to lead each Course Committee. Academic Directors serve alongside Rotation Directors to guide and govern clinical learning. Additionally, a staffing model was developed – and has continued to grow – to ensure that faculty and student resources and experiences are equivalent at both the Windsor and London campus sites.

Understanding the need for transformative learning and mentorship, in 2012 new courses were added to the Curriculum. The Physician as Leader course is a non-clinical approach to leadership in the field of health care. The Professional Portfolio course provides students with the opportunity to work with a dedicated clinical mentor and to follow a patient history through one academic year by being matched with community members who are undergoing health related care.

Recognizing the importance of preparing learners for a career in clinical medicine beyond the undergraduate program, the fourth year of Medical Education was reviewed and redesigned in 2014. The long standing “Integration, Consolidation & Enrichment” course was eliminated from the curriculum in favour of “Integration & Transitions” which focuses on communication skills, research opportunities, and reflection on professionalism and clinical practice to prepare students for Residency.

As this is written today, we look forward to 2015 and our LCME CACMS accreditation as an opportunity not only to demonstrate our commitment to continuous quality improvement, but as a chance to celebrate the success of our program, our students and our faculty. Later in 2015, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Hippocratic Council (student government) – the oldest at Western and complete Western’s internal Institutional Quality Assurance Process.

The future of the program will provide opportunities to refine and enhance student learning and the student experience. Simulation, computer based learning, and early clinical opportunities will continue to grow alongside didactic, large group teaching. Small groups and case based learning will evolve to ensure significant teaching and learning in behavioural and socioeconomic subjects. Curriculum competencies and teaching objectives will continue to be linked to assessment – but the vertical integration of curriculum will ensure that assessment is integrated across courses, emphasizing synthesis and integration of learning rather than memorization of facts. Best practices in Undergraduate Medical Education – historically, and today – are rooted in continuous quality improvement. The Schulich Undergraduate Medical Education Program promises to stay on the leading edge: to be an institution noted for excellence in teaching and outstanding research innovation – as it was in the past, as it is today, and as it will be in the future.


Additional Achievements: