Issue 16: 29 August 2008

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The Queen opened the School of Medicine Buildings in 1970. Here she and the Duke of Edinburgh chat with students. Behind the Queen is the Chancellor, Dr Henry Cooper. Photo from University News, May 1983.

The foundation of a new school of medicine is a considerable event in any place and at any time. Dare we think of Salerno, Padua, Leyden and Edinburgh in a country such as ours, so remote in place and time? However that may be, in the near future the job will have to be done in Auckland, and the novelty for New Zealand lies in the fact that it is likely to be only the second occasion in a century and a-half of our national life – though the early years of the twenty-first century will probably witness the third such occasion.

It can therefore scarcely be wondered at if most of us are untroubled by such a development, unaware of changes that have taken place since our teachers and we ourselves were students, and generally not called upon to think of the future. We realise that many fresh viewpoints have accompanied the vast development of scientific and medical knowledge particularly in the last thirty years, but only those who are active in the very forefront of the sciences can have any inkling of what medical teaching will need to be like, by the time a school that is now being conceived gets well into stride. We have to think not only of medical science, but also of the social and cultural development in which the school will work. There are many signs of maladjustment at the present time in many countries – is it too much to hope that in the years to come we will be ready to apply clear heads as well as warm hearts to these situations? The front-runners in the study of these matters, to be sure, are at work abroad and we need not go short of guidance.

Thought and discussion on medical education are particularly appropriate in New Zealand at the present time. We need to define our ideas as to the importance of the university in this field. Many medical schools in the world for example have little or no connection with a university. Yet what enrichment is in store for any university, and community for that matter, which undertakes the study of the enormous range and variety of problems that are embraced by the discipline of medicine. We need to take care to identify and nurture the seed-corn of the profession, the future teachers and research workers, of whom there is a shortage throughout the world. Not only in the interests of the new school but also for possible assistance to the older one is it important to clarify and modernise our ideas on this very old theme.

Extracts from Douglas Robb, ‘Medical Training in New Zealand’, New Zealand Medical Journal, 61, 363, 1962, pp.535-39.