A history of the Institute: evolution of a community

By Matthew Brett

Invigorated by the energy of the early 1970s, Dr. Hugh Scott writes an enthusiastic letter to the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in 1974. He proposes a “centre that is a meeting place and stimulator of innovation, evaluation and research in education rather than a repository of expertise.”

Forty-six years later in 2020, this sense of community continues to thrive within the Institute of Health Sciences Education.

Read on for a brief journey of the Institute’s history through the eyes of its former Directors. But first, as McGill University begins its bicentennial celebrations next year, we are delighted to share a glance at how the Institute also builds upon 200 years of medical and health sciences education at McGill.

1875-1974: a century in the making

Health sciences education has a rich history at McGill University. In 1821, a charter is granted and McGill is given university powers. Sir William Osler, considered one of the greatest physicians of all time, introduces bedside teaching and laboratories with microscopes that he personally purchased here at McGill, charting the course for applied learning.

Leaping forward to 1959, Dr. Hugh Scott, who will go on to become the Centre’s first Director, attends the Second World Conference on Medical Education as the North American representative following an invitation from the World Council of Medical Students.

The introduction of Medicare, a medical specialists’ strike and the October crisis in Québec are among the many watershed moments in the 1960s into the 1970’s known today as the Quiet Revolution.

Far from being immune to this environment, health sciences education and scholarship are woven into these social developments, both a product of the time and an active agent fostering change.

Significant changes to undergraduate curriculum are introduced in 1973 and an accreditation committee visits McGill, sparking then-Dean R.F.P. Cronin to ask Dr. Scott to explore the idea of a centre for medical education.

“It was a period of ferment,” says Dr. Scott. “The whole medical system was being turned upside down.”

In an enthusiastic 1974 letter to the Dean, Dr. Scott writes of the potential for “a confederation of interested people from within and beyond the faculty at McGill” who could come together within a new Centre. The dream did not take long to come to fruition.

1975: Centre for Medical Education opens doors!

The Centre officially opens with Dr. Scott at the helm and Josephine Cassie as Associate Director.

The arrival of Dr. Guy Groen, jointly appointed with the Faculty of Education, occurs alongside the arrival of Dr. Tom Taylor, jointly appointed with the Department of Epidemiology. This marks a key feature of the Centre’s success that continues today: not working in isolation, but instead breaking silos and forming interprofessional networks.

The new Centre quickly proves itself, serving as a resource for curriculum development and program evaluation.

1978-1993: A shift from curriculum to research

Dr. Dale Dauphinee replaces Dr. Scott as Director in 1978. Dr. Dauphinee marks a shift in the Centre’s orientation from curriculum design to medical education research.

“It was a more reflective time,” says Dr. Dauphinee. “The heavy demands of curriculum change were easing and shifting conditions opened minds to the notion that medical education could be the subject of basic scientific inquiry.”

Then-Dean of Medicine Dr. Richard Cruess puts this shift in emphasis succinctly: “how can we bring bedside concerns to the lab bench?”

1994-2001: A cosmopolitan turn

Dr. Vimla Patel replaces Dr. Dauphinee as Director in 1994. A professor of Medicine and Director of the Cognitive Science Center at McGill at the time, her early research focuses on scientific foundations for medical and health education, particularly in cognitive foundations of medical decision-making.

The Centre again evolves amidst a period of globalization and technological innovation. With Dr. Patel at the helm, the Centre’s profile in medical informatics increases and the Centre benefits from university-industry partnerships in cognition and informatics.

The Centre’s burgeoning interest in research is strengthened by Drs. Richard and Sylvia Cruess, who both joined the Centre during this time. Dr. Richard Cruess had served three terms as Dean of Medicine (1981-1995) and Dr. Sylvia Cruess was the former Director of Professional Services at the Royal Victoria Hospital (1977-1995). The Cruess’ help shape scholarship around professionalism and professional identity formation in medicine.

2001-2018: Preparing for the future

Dr. Peter J. McLeod becomes the new Centre Director in 2001, marking a significant reorientation of the Centre in becoming a resource to the Faculty of Medicine for educational innovation and research. Alongside then-Associate Director Dr. Yvonne Steinert, the Centre becomes a dynamic hub for medical education with a clear and active membership structure.

“We became a central space for shaping and advancing the field of medical education during this time, getting actively involved in research and scholarship in undergraduate, postgraduate, and continuing health professions education,” says Dr. Steinert of the early 2000s.

Dr. Steinert goes on to replace Dr. McLeod as the Director in 2005, spearheading further growth for the Centre and a markedly new chapter, with an ongoing focus on research and the development of new ideas, building a vibrant community of practice of health sciences education researchers and practitioners.

2019: Institute of Health Sciences Education launches!

The Institute replaces the Centre for Medical Education in February 2019, becoming the first of its kind in Canada—an academic hiring and teaching unit that provides graduate programs in health sciences education.

The Institute’s name reflects an ongoing reorientation toward interprofessional collaboration, breaking silos, and taking a more inclusive approach across the health professions and biomedical sciences.

“We see ourselves as a community – and a place – for shared learning and development,” says Dr. Steinert of the Institute. “A critical ingredient of our success is that we actively bring a range of stakeholders to the table from diverse disciplines and professions. It is this creative and healthy mix of people, theory and practice that fosters some really progressive and dynamic work.”

Forty-six years after the idea of “a meeting place” emerged, the spirit of coming together as a health sciences education community is stronger than ever.

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