History of Medical Practice in Canada
How did the medical practice in Canada evolve?
Before Europeans settled in Canada, the Indigenous people relied on natural remedies to treat illnesses. A Shaman, or traditional healer, would usually administer these remedies. The European settlers brought new diseases with them to Canada. These diseases were often deadly epidemics, such as smallpox. However, Shamans did not have cures for these new illnesses.
Acorus Americanus (American sweetflag) is an important medicine for the Mi'kmaq and other Indigenous peoples. The plant contains a complex mix of aromatic and other compounds; it is used in traditional medicine by both First Nations and early settlers to treat a broad spectrum of ailments from upset stomach and sore throat to cholera and smallpox. Women also took it after childbirth.
While medicine was growing in other parts of the world, it was still new in Canada when the French were settling. The first medical practitioners in Canada were not trained doctors. Instead, they fell into two types of practitioners: barber surgeons and apothecaries. Barber surgeons had some training in bleeding techniques to treat illness and used splints to manage injuries. The apothecaries supplied remedies for diseases and served as what we refer to today as general practitioners or family physicians.
The first hospitals were called Hôtel-Dieu, set up by the Nursing Orders of Nuns.
When Britain conquered New France, they introduced their own medical system, which mostly consisted of military surgeons. In what is now Ontario, the loyalists brought with them civilian physicians and military surgeons. Halifax was the largest city in the Maritime colonies. It had many military surgeons and many hospitals.
The 19th century saw a significant increase in immigration to Canada, especially from Britain and the United States, and physicians were among the immigrants. This century also shaped medical education and early medical regulations. New areas of medicine were created to deal with epidemics and public health. Anesthetics and antisepsis were discovered, and female physicians were gaining recognition.
McGill Medical School
The first medical schools in Canada were set up in the 1820s. These included the Talbot Dispensary in Upper Canada and another affiliated with Victoria College (now part of the University of Toronto). In 1823, the Montreal Medical Institution began classes.
Dalhousie Medical School
The original Dalhousie College, on Halifax's Grand Parade, housed the medical school in its attic in 1868.
While many medical schools in the United States had a commercial approach, schools in Canada partnered with universities to maintain high entry standards and improve doctors’ public reputations.
19th Century Landmarks for Female Physicians
Until the 1880s, the only female physicians in Canada were trained outside Canada.
1883: The Women’s Medical College partnered with the University of Toronto and the University of Trinity College. They offered courses in medicine but did not grant degrees.
1890: Dalhousie University offered medical training for women.
1895: Students at Ontario Medical College for Women could appear in exams of other schools.
1645: Jeanne Mance, founder of Canada’s first hospital
1867: Dr. Emily Stowe, first Canadian woman physician to practice in Canada
Frederick Banting, Charles Best, and J.J.R. MacLeod discovered insulin in Canada in 1922, and the Canadian government began financing medical research. General health improved due to better diet, effective public health measures, the discovery of antibiotics, and immunization.
The University of Toronto helped develop a vaccine for polio in the early 1950s.
Regulation of the Medical Profession
Since the late 1700s:
Universities and boards of examiners disagreed about whether a medical degree formed a license to practice.
in Lower Canada, the governor appointed a board under a British Act of Parliament to keep unlicensed persons from practicing medicine.
Creation of College of Physicians and Surgeons of Lower Canada.
The first medical association in Canada was formed in Nova Scotia.
Formation of Canadian Medical Association.
Ontario Medical Act incorporated the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Upper Canada.
A special Act of Parliament established the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada to oversee postgraduate medical education in Canada.
The Royal College originally offered just two specialty qualifications: Fellowship in general medicine and a Fellowship in general surgery. Since 1972, there has been one high certification standard for all specialist physicians and surgeons.