Dr. Annmarie Adams gave a talk last week where, using McGill's architecture as a focus, she highlighted how the built environment of medical schools and hospitals can reflect and reveal many of the unspoken priorities of medicine and medical education.


The field of medical education broke with tradition after World War II, looking outside of itself to “far-reaching and even radical cultural reference points” to signal the field’s modernist rise in global importance, argued Dr. Annmarie Adams, Chair of the Department of Social Studies of Medicine at McGill University, to a full house last Thursday.
“The built environment can reveal much about the unwritten priorities of medicine,” Adams told some 50 attendees of last week’s Medical Education Rounds, an ongoing series of talks co-hosted by McGill’s Centre for Medical Education and the Faculty Development Office.
The Stevenson Chair in the Philosophy and History of Science, Adams’s presentation stemmed from her contribution to a proposed book, Medical Education: A History in 20 Case Studies, edited by Delia Gavrus and Susan Lamb, about the global history of medical education.
As the first medical faculty in Canada, McGill University features prominently in her work as its early medical curriculum influenced other Canadian medical schools, and two of three of the university’s purpose-built medical buildings are still used as medical-school buildings today.
Looking around: McGill architecture as primary source
Social and cultural histories of medical education tend to rely on textual evidence, but Dr. Adams proposes utilizing architecture itself as primary source material.
“What does architecture tell us about medical education?” Dr. Adams asked the audience.
Design decisions and archival drawings “reflect and shape the medical curriculum, illustrating the varying importance of educational components such as research, dissection, display, reading, lecturing and discussion,” she continued.
The audience was encouraged to engage in a practice of “looking around,” as Dr. Adams adopts a “purposefully conversational” approach akin to a guided tour in order to understand nearly a century of medical education at McGill by walking through its architecture.......

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