Vasiliki Tellios is a Ph.D. candidate in Neuroscience at Western University.
Canadian medicine has experienced great shifts in knowledge and innovation throughout the past century, propelled by unique and resilient individuals that have devoted their lives to bridging gaps between science and medicine. Dr. Douglas Bocking is among these individuals. Bocking obtained his medical training during World War II, and later forged novel collaborations between burgeoning fields of medicine and science. His leadership as Dean of Medicine and Vice-Provost of Health Sciences at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) from 1965-1978 revolutionized clinical research and led to the creation of Canada’s first academic department in family medicine, helping to establish Canada as a leader in medical innovation.
The Government of Canada formally recognized his commitment to healthcare by appointing him to the Order of Canada in 1999. His innovative character has also been immortalized by the Douglas Bocking Award, presented annually as UWO’s most prestigious teaching honour. At 99 years of age, Bocking remains an active member of the London and university communities, continuing to inspire future physicians.
In commemoration of the 75th anniversary since the end of World War II, our group spoke to Bocking about his experiences during that time.
RH: Dr. Bocking, you could probably a host a whole series of podcasts based on your experience in medicine alone.
DB: I have been here a long time as a member at [UWO]. I started in pre-medicine in 1938 and I have seen a lot of changes. The medical school itself […] admitted 90 students yearly. At the end of first year, the class was reduced from 90 students to 30. I should mention that it was easy to get into medical school at that time. You just had to have respectable grades in grade 13 and be able to afford the tuition fee of $125 a year. Of course, that went up to $225 in second year for the rest of the program.
RH: What was the medical education like in those days?
DB: The pre-med and medical program was six years total. In the second year, we spent our mornings in gross anatomy, so … you pretty well reeked of formaldehyde six days a week. We really didn’t get much in the way of… clinical medicine ‘till fourth year. We had more medical and surgical lectures, and some clinics on the wards. We also had courses in pediatrics, psychiatry and a little bit of public health, medical ethics and medical jurisprudence.
DB: Yeah, we were encouraged to stay in medicine rather than join the service […] we foresaw a need for doctors in the long term.
RH: This was right around the time of World War II right?
DB: Yes, World War II started in September, ’39. The 60 that didn’t get into medicine – some of them joined the service, some would go on to an arts or science degree. In the clinical departments, several of the doctors had joined the service.
RH: It seems a lot of the physicians at the time went into the service.
DB: That’s right, there was no conscription then. In ‘41 or ‘42 … things weren’t going very well in the war, England was just hanging on by the skin of the teeth. So … at the end of third year, all able-bodied students signed up as privates of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. We had elementary training in how to march and one summer learned how to shoot. Instead of graduating in June of ‘44 we graduated in August of ’43. Most of the class went into one of the services, either army, air force or navy. The girls weren’t in the army at that time … There were three girls in the class of 30.
RH: What specialty did you choose?
DB: I was in the navy for a year and a half and then came back to Montreal General and did a residency in medicine. And then by that time I had a family [with] two children. I had to earn some money to raise a family, so I went to Hawkesbury, Ontario […] and joined the Smith clinic and did internal medicine there for two years. I then decided that I’d like to get more into an academic setting, so I came back [to UWO] and talked to Dr. Frank Brian, then-Chief of Medicine. I was into cardiology and he said, ‘well you’d starve in cardiology,’ because [they already had three cardiologists]. He suggested rheumatology instead. So, I got a fellowship with the arthritis society and spent two years at Harvard Medical School and came back [to UWO] in ‘52.
VT: You were very adaptable in terms of your specialty! You became Dean in 1965, what was that like?
DB: I enjoyed it greatly … I had lots of contact with the medical students and faculty, [which] was growing. We had greater numbers of staff at University Hospital [when it] started in 1972 … There were new programs – physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology and audiology. In 1968 we brought Ian McWhinney here as the first professor of family medicine in Canada – he went on to really develop the whole field of family medicine across Canada. […] It was in ’68 that Drs. Charlie Drake and Henry Barnett decided to develop the clinical and neurological sciences department, combining medicine, neurology and neurosurgery. That was a good collaboration … I think it was very valuable at [UWO].
RH: Were there any experiences during your medical school curriculum that influenced how you taught or the way that you conducted the program as Dean?
DB: In 1959, […] we began to make changes, cutting back on the gross anatomy – a great deal – my experience with the curriculum committee was quite valuable when I was Dean.
Excerpts included were obtained from an interview entitled ‘Medicine, Then Vs Now with Dr. Douglas Bocking’, originally airing on June 25th, 2018.1 Small edits have been made for clarity and brevity.
Interview supported by Radio Western (CHRW), and the UWO GradCast Radio Editorial Board. This work was also supported by a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship awarded to RH via NSERC.