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Vol 40  No 5
November 1, 2007


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Faculty of Medicine anniversary

Going strong at 40
by Sharon Gray


Archivist Stephanie Harlick (C) created the virtual exhibit, The Early Days of the Medical School at Memorial University of Newfoundland, as well as many permanent wall displays with documents and photographs from the early days. Dr. Brian Payton (L), a faculty member hired in 1969, was enormously helpful in providing photographs and identifying people in the photos. He and Dr. William Marshall (R), who was hired in 1968, spoke about the early days of the medical school during the morning session of the day’s activities. (Photo by HSIMS)

The decision to build a medical school at Memorial University was “the most important single step ever taken in the century and a half history of health care” in Newfoundland and Labrador. This key message from Lt.-Gov. Edward Roberts led off his talk Oct. 22 during the 40th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Faculty of Medicine. He went on to give an absorbing account of the behind-the-scenes battle to get funding to build the Health Sciences Centre, a fight that was almost lost.

The lieutenant governor was one of many speakers during the day of commemoration that offered first-hand accounts of the early days of the medical school and tributes to the founding dean, the late Dr. Ian Rusted. The Dr. Ian Rusted Founder’s Chair in Medical Education was launched, and there was also the launch of a new virtual exhibit, The Early Days of the Medical School at Memorial University.

The speech by Lt.-Gov. Roberts revealed the previously unknown story of the many problems and obstacles that almost kept the medical school from becoming a bricks-and-mortar reality. The provincial government’s support for the medical school was dependent on receiving substantial assistance from the federal Health Resources Fund. As parliamentary assistant to Premier Joseph Smallwood at the time, Mr. Roberts and then-university president (pro tem) Mose Morgan had drafted carefully-crafted words for the premier’s declaration that “subject only to the receipt of such support, we are prepared to commit the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to the necessary expenditures without in any way impairing the university’s other operating and capital budgets.”

Getting that federal support proved difficult. The consensus among advisors to the provincial government and the university was that a new hospital to replace the General Hospital plus a Health Sciences Centre would cost $40 million. “My colleagues and I, acting on the advice of our financial advisors, concluded that we needed $30 million from Ottawa,” said Lt.-Gov. Roberts. “That was the problem.”

Using a per capita formula, the amount of federal funding fell about $10 million short, even after Mr. Roberts (who was then provincial minister of health) negotiated an agreement for $10.5 million of the $25 million Atlantic Provinces portion of the fund. At that point, the role played by John Munro, the minister of national health and welfare, became pivotal. There was $75 million in discretionary monies in the Health Resources Fund and despite strong opposition from within the federal cabinet and most of the provinces, Mr. Roberts and others eventually convinced Mr. Munro to give $10 million to Newfoundland and Labrador.

“The government could not have built the medical school and the new General Hospital without the $10 million that he gave us from the discretionary portion of the Health Resources Fund,” said Lt.-Gov. Roberts. “I was – and am – convinced that the university would have been forced to close the school, and to end the dream of those who believed we could educate doctors here in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Lt.-Gov. Roberts said he is “deeply ashamed” that Memorial has never acknowledged John Munro’s contribution. “He deserves recognition. It is not too late to do so. I urge the powers-that-be here at the university to give earnest consideration to making a suitable acknowledgment now, 36 years after he made it possible for us to build the General Hospital and the Health Sciences Centre.”

In addition to the lieutenant governor, insights into the early days of the medical school and tributes to the late Dean Emeritus Dr. Ian Rusted were given by students, staff, faculty and former deans. The day’s proceedings were recorded and can be viewed in the archive section at http://auricle.med.mun.ca/.

The virtual exhibit, The Early Days of the Medical School at Memorial University, was launched during the day’s activities. This goldmine of historical documents and photographs was created by archivist Stephanie Harlick. It can be explored at www.med.mun.ca/earlydays/.

The day also included the launch of the Dr. Ian Rusted Founder’s Chair in Medical Education. Dr. Rusted’s widow, Ellen Rusted, and sons Chris and Brian, as well as other family members, were present for the launch and for the tribute session that followed.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Brian Rusted said, “As a family we grew up with the medical school and our father’s passion for educating medical doctors in Newfoundland for this province. We are deeply honoured that Memorial University is naming its first endowed chair in the Faculty of Medicine for our father, Dr. Ian Rusted. This medical school was his passion and a major focus of his life’s work. The concept of the Founder’s Chair in Medical Education was defined by our father and he initiated the fundraising and the description of what the chair is intended to accomplish for the Faculty of Medicine and for the education of doctors. It will serve to advance all aspects of medical education, particularly as this medical school expands its undergraduate program.”

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