Originally called the "Department of Midwifery and Diseases of Women" the department was founded in 1823-24 in the Montreal Medical Institute, the teaching arm of the then newly-founded Montreal General Hospital. The students were taught by didactic lectures in Midwifery and Diseases of Women by Professor William Robertson (1784-1844). When the Montreal Medical Institute became the Medical Faculty of McGill University, Dr. Robertson became its first Dean. This was the first Medical Faculty to open in Lower Canada.
The modern era started just before the turn of the century when Dr. William Gardner (1895-1910) was appointed Chief of Gynecology at the Royal Victoria Hospital. He transferred from the Montreal General Hospital. He was a practical clinician and was the first gynecologist at McGill. There is a bronze plaque in his honour in the Women’s Pavilion Doctor's lounge.
Dr. Walter W. Chipman (1910-1929) succeeded Dr. Gardner as Chief of gynecology at the Royal Victoria Hospital. As Dr. Chipman was already Professor of Obstetrics, the two departments joined and he became the first Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at McGill in 1912. The merger of obstetrics and gynecology under a single head was a most significant change. It resulted in a close working relationship with a large general hospital, The Royal Victoria. This allowed obstetrical patients to receive all the benefits that were enjoyed by medical and surgical patients.
Dr. Chipman’s next goal was to merge the Montreal Maternity Hospital with the Royal Victoria Hospital, despite stiff opposition from outspoken physicians at the Montreal Maternity Hospital. Dr. Chipman was a very effective and able administrator. His power of communication, political skills, and conviction convinced the McGill Medical Faculty to approve the union of obstetrics and gynecology as a single specialty. This merger resulted in the building of The Women’s Pavilion of the Royal Victoria Hospital.
The Women’s Pavilion opened in 1926 with 213 beds, 100 cribs and a tripled obstetrical and gynecological staff. Dr. Chipman was elected Professor and Chairman of the newly formed Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and served until 1929. Since then, there have been eight Professors of Obstetrics and Gynecology at McGill. This history will follow the story of this department under each of these individuals:
Dr. John R. Fraser (1929-1943) – A surgeon with a background of pathology and bacteriology, he set up the Clara Law Laboratory of Bacteriology and the Bessborough Laboratory of Pathology. In his department, pioneer work was carried out by J.S.L. Browne and Eleanear Venning. They advanced reproductive endocrinology. Dr. Fraser became the Dean of Medicine at McGill.
Dr. Newell W. Philpott (1943-1956) – Called back from active service in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II, he became the first full-time Head of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Along with Dr. Louis Lowenstein, he organized a clinic for the blood problems and anemias of pregnancy. This clinic still exists today. Along with Dr. George Maughan, Dr. Philpott organized a primitive Blood and Pooled Plasma Bank which provided blood for immediate use and conversion to plasma products. At the same time, an Infertility Clinic was established under the direction of Dr. George Simpson and Dr. Meyer Hendelman.
Dr. George B. Maughan (1956-1975) – An Olympic heavy weight boxing champion, he devoted himself to reducing maternal and perinatal mortality (the death of mothers and babies). He appointed Dr. Robert Usher in 1957 to build up the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where he carried out pioneer research into the Respiratory Distress Syndrome. By 1973, the overall perinatal mortality was reduced to 4.7/1000 from 17/1000.
In 1968 the first Contraception Clinic was established under the direction of Dr. Irene Symonds. Between 1968 and 1973 Dr. Maughan re-organized the Medical Student and Residency Training programs into a merged McGill Program. The Jewish General, The Queen Elizabeth and the LaSalle hospitals were added to the Royal Victoria and the Montreal General hospitals for the purpose of training. The program remains strong to this day.
During this same period, full-time coverage of obstetric epidural analgesia and anesthesia was developed, the first infusion of blood into the abdomen of the unborn infant was carried out at the Montreal General Hospital to prevent threatening foetal anemia (erythoplastosis foetalis), and important work on the menopause was being carried out at the Jewish General Hospital.
Dr. Frederick Naftolin (1975-1978) – In his short time there was a burgeoning of research in Reproductive Endocrinology. He built state-of-the art laboratories. He assembled a strong team of basic scientists headed by Dr. Kurt Ruf.
This was the basis of Academic Research in the department. Dr. Naftolin carried out extensive renovation of the Birthing Centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Dr. Frederick J. Tweedie (1979) – Because of health reasons, Dr. Tweedie had to resign.
Dr. Robert A. H. Kinch (1979-1983) – During his chairmanship, he was asked to take over the McGill chairmanship as well as Obstetrician and Gynecologist in Chief at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Montreal General Hospital. Dr. Kinch was a leader and innovator in the field of medical education. His superb teaching and mentoring resulted in 8 of his trainees becoming the heads of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Departments at Canadian universities; this is a unique accomplishment. Dr. Kinch established budgetary support for the research started by Dr. Naftolin and maintained it with the same team of scientists under the direction of Dr. Kurt Ruf. Dr. Kinch also instigated the development of the Day Care Centre in the Women’s Pavilion. He was the recipient of numerous awards and continued teaching at McGill until the age of 86.
Dr. Brian Little (1983-1994) – Born in Montreal, Dr. Little returned to McGill after distinguished service at Harvard Medical School and Chairman at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio. He established the Women’s Pavilion’s High-Risk Pregnancy and Ultrasonography departments. This was the start of the Perinatal Unit under the direction of Dr. Bahij Nuwayhid.
Dr. Seang Lin Tan (1994-2010) – The epitome of the modern Chairman with an MBA, Dr Tan had an ability to persuade philanthropists to support the Department. Dr. Tan founded the McGill Reproductive Centre in 1996, recruited world-class reproductive specialists and scientists to do clinical and research work. While he built the Centre into an internationally renowned centre of reproductive medicine, he also established three Endowed Chairs and five Research Fellowships.
To help women with infertility problems who cannot afford to pay for In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Dr. Tan convinced the Government of Quebec to pay for 3 free treatments of IVF and medication, per patient. This is a “first” in all of North America and came into effect August 5, 2010, just as his 15 year chairmanship came to an end.
Written by Dr. Robert A.H. Kinch profile