Understanding our roots could help plan our future, say MD students

A black and white photo of an early anatomy class at the Faculty of Medicine.

Gayle Wong and Serina Khater spent their summers immersed in historical records to develop a clearer picture of the Faculty’s rich history.

While many of their peers worked on projects more traditionally associated with medical careers, MD students Gayle Wong and Serina Khater were dusting off archival documents and scanning old scientific journals and newspapers to create a collective portrait of the Faculty of Medicine’s rich history.

Their work, both summer internship projects, supports research led by Dr. Susan Lamb, the Faculty’s Jason A. Hannah Chair in History of Medicine, whose research program includes an examination of the rationale and organization of the Faculty and the experiences of its people in its formative years.

“As we approach the Faculty’s 75th anniversary in 2020, these projects will be invaluable in painting a picture of our history for the public,” says Dr. Lamb. “Their findings show the complex development of the medical faculty since its inception, and these historical insights might even prove helpful to our current mandates.”

Gayle Wong: Exploring our long history of social accountability

In 2017, Wong jumped on the opportunity to learn about the Faculty’s first five graduating classes from 1951 to 1955. As she compiled their biographical and educational details into a database, the Faculty’s commitment to catering educational goals to meet the needs of specific populations became very apparent.

“Many of the students were Francophone,” says Wong. “Our medical school was created primarily because there was a demand for physicians prepared to serve the French Catholic population outside of Quebec – our earliest foray into social accountability.”

The practice of training physicians to serve the underserved remains a strong element of the Faculty’s mandate today, Wong adds, and the insights generated by her research could be applied to ongoing efforts to ensure access to high-quality health care for Francophone, Indigenous and other communities.

“By examining the careers of our medical graduates and whether they went on to serve those communities, we can see how we tackled this in the past, and what worked,” she says.

Serina Khater: Studying the founding ideals of bilingualism and multi-culturalism

In summer 2018, Khater built on Wong’s database by mining demographic data for the graduates of 1956-1961, and analyzing trends over their combined 10 years of data.

She noted an increase in bilingual students, in line with the Faculty’s founding commitment to bilingualism. Another of its objectives made apparent by Khater’s work was to increase multiculturalism in medicine through international admissions. She also observed growing rates of incoming students with post-secondary education.

Khater explains that as the Faculty continues to prioritize bilingualism and attract top-quality, globally conscious students, we can learn from past practices and maintain momentum in areas that have always been at the core of the Faculty’s educational objectives.

“The Faculty is still young, so now is the time to ask: why did we start a medical school? What were our goals?” she explains. “People ask me what there is to learn through medical history,” she says – and both Khater and Wong discovered the answer: the history and future of the medical school are linked by persisting educational values and aims.

The young medical students were proud to discover that, in addition to its commitment to science and medicine, values such as bilingualism, multiculturalism, and social accountability have endured throughout the Faculty’s development. Their work is on display at Roger Guindon and will be shared as part of the Faculty’s 75th celebrations in 2020.

In summer 2019, yet another medical student will work with Dr. Lamb to research the graduates of 1961 to 1967. What will future student-historians discover about you?


Main photo: An early anatomy lecture at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine.

Photo of Gayle Wong standing in front of her poster.

Gayle Wong (MD2020)


Photo of Gayle Wong and Dr. George Taylor standing in front of her poster.

Gayle Wong shares the details of her research poster with alumnus Dr. George Taylor, MD1955b at a September 2017 symposium. Photo credit : Gayle Wong


Photo of Serina Khater standing in front of her poster.

Serina Khater (MD2021)


Photo of Serina Khater explaining her poster to three judges.

Serina Khater explains her research poster to the judging panel at a September 2018 symposium. Photo credit : Serina Khater


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