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History of the Otago Medical School Research Society and its proceedings

Early research at the Otago Medical School

Publishable research has been produced by members of the staff of the Otago Medical School for over 100 years. John Malcolm, the founding Professor of Physiology refers in his letters to a paper given in 1907 by Dr Emily Siedeberg, the School's first woman graduate, and to its characterisation by Daniel Colquhoun, the then Professor of Medicine, as the first "real" research to emerge from the School since its foundation over 30 years before.

All the early teachers were part-timers and busy clinicians with the exception of John Halliday Scott, Professor of Anatomy and (from 1891) first Dean, who was throughout his career a grossly overworked man. John Malcolm was the second full-time staff member, appointed only in 1905 and it is above all to him, by dint of both his encouragement and, especially, his personal example that research in the School owes its origins and development. He acted as mentor to Dr Siedeberg; he supervised Dr Frank Fitchett's work for his Edinburgh M.D. on tutin, extracted from the poisonous tutu (Coriaria arborea) and together they published a long paper in 1909; and he started his work on the composition of New Zealand foodstuffs with the publication in 1911 of the first of a long series of papers that continued through the 1920s.

In 1920, D W Carmalt Jones was appointed to the Chair of Medicine in Otago. He was an Oxford graduate clinically trained at the Westminster Hospital, who had applied for the post at the suggestion of Sir William Osler. In 1922 he started publishing as a collection the papers produced by members of the Medical School staff. He was aided in his editorial endeavour by a committee comprising Drs Louis Barnett, A Murray Drennan, and Frank Fitchett, professors, respectively of surgery, pathology, and clinical medicine. All the papers in Vol. 1 had been reprinted in Wellington in 1921, but the first in order was that by Fitchett and Malcolm from Q.J. Exp. Physiol. 2, (1909).

Carmalt Jones continued to edit what was now termed the Proceedings of the Otago Medical School until his retirement in 1940, when he was succeeded as editor by Sir Bernard Dawson, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. All these volumes—the last, Vol 28. was published in 1951, and they included a few supplementary volumes on special topics—emanated mainly from clinical departments. The majority were reports of clinical investigations or descriptions of single cases, some were presidential or invited addresses, and a few were statistically analysed surveys.

The great majority of the reprints were taken from the New Zealand Medical Journal. While a certain amount of more strictly experimental work was certainly being done in the Medical School, it was perhaps regarded as of insufficient general interest for Carmalt Jones' purpose.

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Formation of the Otago Medical School Research Society

The Faculty minutes of 3/3/50 record Sir Bernard Dawson's resignation from the editorship and his suggestion that the Medical Librarian W.E. Linton be appointed as 'compiler', and also that a committee be appointed to consider the future of the Proceedings. The committee, consisting of the three professors J C Eccles, W E Adams, and N L Edson (Physiology, Anatomy, and Biochemistry), and convened by Dawson, reported on 23/3/50 to the effect that the Proceedings should continue pro tem, Vol 28 to be published dated 1951 and that a list of titles be sent to all the learned bodies to which the Proceedings had previously sent on an exchange basis, an oblique recommendation in fact that publication should cease.

A letter from Dawson in Feb 1951 prompted further discussion at the first Faculty meeting of the new session, on 2/3/51. N L Edson moved that the Proceedings should continue only if each issue followed a meeting of all interested research workers at which reports would be given on research in progress. A subcommittee was appointed (Edson, Adams, Dr M McGeorge, and Linton), and the outcome was a meeting held on 16/4/51 at which it was agreed to form the Otago Medical School Research Society with the object of holding regular meetings at which brief communications would be delivered, the proceedings of these meetings to be published under the old title.

Officers and committee members were elected and were given as one of their duties the appointment of an Editorial Panel to select papers for each meeting of the Society, and to edit the 'Proceedings'. Vol 29, No. 1 duly appeared in May 1951, in which it was stated that "The papers presented will be unpublished work, and therefore in its new form the Proceedings will become a journal for publishing preliminary communications which could be quoted in subsequent full publications". This change of course resulted in the virtual disappearance of matters of purely clinical interest, for example case reports, and contributions from clinical members of staff were largely from those who were also doing experimental work, while the bulk of the material came from the various departments of the medical sciences.

Very few members of the thus transformed society still survive—one of the first 15 presidents, two of the secretaries of these 15 years. Minutes and reports of subsequent years deal mainly with the main purposes of the Society but from time to time record less obvious concerns. Thus the Annual Report of 1967 refers to the establishment of the Otago Medical Research Foundation, largely through the efforts of Associate Professors T C Highton and E G McQueen, and Dr P K Renshaw. In 1968 the Proceedings achieved listing in Current Contents; this made an immense difference to the demand for off prints of individual papers. This listing unfortunately came to an end some 20 years later with an inevitable drop in demand and indeed questions about the very future of the Proceedings.

Until the 50th Meeting (July 1967) meetings were held at 8pm and followed by supper (tea/coffee and biscuits!), but the 51st Meeting included a dinner between sessions, an arrangement decided on to cope with the increase in the number of papers being presented. Meetings now started at 5 or 5.30 pm.

Editorial policy came up for discussion—and criticism—from time to time, possibly on account of the attempts of the editors to make manuscripts generally accessible to all of a widely variegated audience of specialists.

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An enlarged criteria for membership

Finally changes in the Constitution were required to accommodate changes in campus geography and in the general growth of the University the amount of important medically-related research being done outside the four walls of the Medical School. Obvious examples are the move and increase in size of the Department of Biochemistry and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the experimental work being done in the Departments of Psychology and Human Nutrition. These required an enlargement of the criteria for membership.

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