Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Medicine, popularly known as Dalhousie Medical School (DMS), was founded in 1868 by local physicians who envisaged a facility to train doctors for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island (collectively known as Maritime Canada). Among the founders was Sir Charles Tupper, the first president of the Canadian Medical Association and the man who in 1867 led Nova Scotia into Canadian confederation. The school’s principal research and teaching facility, the Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building, was named for him.
Originally, the medical school was housed in a small room at Dalhousie College in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia. There was a dean, nine teachers, and 12 students. To obtain anatomy instruction, students climbed into the attic through a trap door.
From these humble beginnings, the medical school has grown into the largest health research faculty in Atlantic Canada. Today it occupies three buildings and incorporates a network of more than 100 teaching sites throughout Maritime Canada, including nine affiliated teaching hospitals. The school boasts more than 1,300 faculty members, and has 21 clinical and basic science departments, 380 undergraduate medical students, 450 postgraduates (residents), and 270 graduate students. Since its founding, the school has graduated more than 7,000 physicians and has contributed to the training of at least as many research scientists. Although most Dalhousie-trained physicians have gone on to practice in the Maritime provinces, Dalhousie medical graduates and researchers fill positions in many of the world’s top medical institutions.
Dalhousie’s approach to medical education, research, and care is distinguished by its strong focus on the communities and the region served by the school. Teaching and training are conducted at sites around the Maritimes. Research programs are also constructed to respond to prevalent health problems in the regional population.
At the same time, DMS enjoys a reputation far and wide for excellence and innovation. It was one of the first medical schools in North America to admit women, to create a continuing medical education (CME) program for practicing physicians, and to emphasize communications skills and the humanities in medical teaching. Today, Dalhousie CME, as well as its programs in communications skills, faculty development, and medical humanities are internationally renowned. More recent “firsts” include Canada’s inaugural graduate program in medical informatics, the discovery of the gene responsible for a rare genetic eye diseases known as Familial Exudative Vitreoretinopathy (FEVR), and the world’s first robotic brain telesurgery resulting in a successful craniotomy for removal of a brain tumor in a patient 400 kilometers (250 miles) away.
Dalhousie Medical School faculty have also been instrumental in the development of current heart transplantation protocols used worldwide, in changing the accepted view of pediatric pain, and in denoting the role of lifestyle in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
One of the most significant discoveries ever made in the field of cancer research—the capability of the common reovirus to infect and kill cancer cells—was made by a Dalhousie medical researcher. The Brain Repair Centre, an adjunct of the medical school, has Canada’s only neural transplantation program, and is a world leader in the repair of neuronal circuitry in Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injury.
Adaptation, growth, and innovation remain hallmarks of DMS as it continues to respond to Maritime Canadian health needs with excellence in teaching and clinical care backed by cutting-edge research.