History of Medicine 2013: Queen’s Medicine Takes Boston

Thanks to Hollis Roth, Meds 2016, who is our guest writer for today’s blog article, and to  Stefania Spano (Meds 2016) and Dr. Jacalyn Duffin for their photos.

This fall marked the 16th annual Queen’s History of Medicine trip; what began as a trip planned by Dr. Duffin in 1996 to the National Gallery in Ottawa has quickly became an annual tradition fondly remembered by many classes of Queen’s Medicine graduates. This year marked the fourth History of Medicine trip to Boston and spots were highly coveted, with a wait-list maintained until the very day of departure.

After classes ended on Friday, students eagerly piled on the coach bus and settled in for the long trip to Boston. While the 9-hour ride proved longer than anticipated, students passed the time in a variety of ways. Some diligently studied, others caught up with classmates and on sleep, and an unfortunate few spent the majority of the trip suffering from motion sickness. Arriving in Boston close to midnight, a cluster of students set off to explore the city, while others decided to wait until morning.

After gathering for a group photo on the steps of Massachusetts General Hospital, students spent the rest of the day exploring Boston. With only 36 hours to explore the city, students made the most of their time. Popular sites included the campuses of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, as well as Fenway Park, the Boston Central Public Library, and sampling a wide variety of local delicacies. It was a lovely (albeit windy) fall day to wander the city amongst colleagues and friends while briefly escaping the rigorous demands of medical school.


Queen’s medical students explore the Harvard campus.  Photo credit: Stefania Spano (Class of 2016)

We began bright and early Saturday morning with a visit to the third oldest hospital in the United States, Massachusetts General Hospital. Massachusetts General is richly steeped in history and houses the Ether Dome, which served as a surgical theatre from 1821-1868 and is a National Historic Site. On October 16 1848, the Ether Dome was the location of the first public demonstration of the surgical use of ether anesthetic by William T.G. Morton. Under the guidance of Professor David S. Jones (MD PhD and the A. Bernard Ackerman Professor of the Culture of Medicine), and Dr. Sukumar P. Desai (Anesthesia, Brigham and Women’s Hospital), students learned how the use of anesthesia drastically redefined surgery.


Queen’s medical students at the Ether Dome.  Photo credit: Dr. Duffin

Our final stop on Sunday was Harvard Medical School, where we were privileged to have the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine opened solely for our use.

Harvard Med School

Harvard Medical School  Photo credit: Stefania Spano (Class of 2016)

The Countway Library is one of the largest medical libraries in the world, serving Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, and contains the Warren Anatomical Museum. Led by Dr. Scott Podolsky (MD and Director of the Center for the History of Medicine), Mr. Dominic Hall (Curator of the Warren Anatomical Museum), and Ms. Joan Thomas (Cataloger, Rare Books), students received guided tours.

Countway Medical Library

Zeyu Li (Class of 2016) with Mr. Dominic Hall, Ms. Joan Thomas, and Dr. Scott Podolsky at the Countway Medical Library.  Photo credit: Dr. Duffin

Highlights of our visit included viewing first editions of Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica (1543) and Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) in the Rare Book Library, and viewing the skull of Phineas Gage in the Warren Anatomical Museum.

Dr. Duffin made a very exciting discovery while exploring the Countway Library. Dr. Duffin has long searched for the origins of an image used as a bookplate for books purchased in the 1920s for our medical library, but even after consulting with colleagues across the world the source remained unknown. Happily, Dr. Duffin was astonished to stumble across the very same image in Hortus Sanitatis (1491) while touring a selection of rare books chosen for our viewing. It was an extremely fortuitous discovery – had this book not been selected for viewing or conveniently left open at the relevant page by the student who had previously viewed it, Dr. Duffin may not have made this connection. It can truly be said that this History of Medicine trip was an educational experience for all!

Hortus Sanitatis

The frontispiece of “Hortus Sanitatis” (1491) and the cause of Dr. Duffin’s jubilation.  Photo credit: Dr. Duffin

We would like to extend our deepest thanks to Dr. Jones, Dr. Desai, Dr. Podolsky, Mr. Hall, and Ms. Thomas for taking the time to share their passion in the History of Medicine with us (on a weekend, no less) and for making us feel so welcome in Boston. As always, a huge thank you is due to Dr. Duffin for her continued support of these annual History of Medicine trips, to Zeyu Li (Class of 2016) for organizing the trip, and to the Aesculapian Society for funding. While I will be deep into clerkship at this point next year, I look forward to hearing about next year’s trip!

One Response to History of Medicine 2013: Queen’s Medicine Takes Boston

  1. Dr. Craig Goldie (Palliative Care) says:

    I have fond memories of my own History of Medicine trip to New York City in 2005 including a rare glimpse into the medical and archaeological efforts from the September 11th attacks.

    It is a wonderful tradition and we are very fortunate to have Dr. Duffin as a faculty member and guide to the fascinating history of our discipline.

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