The Otago Medical School opened in 1875, some twenty-two years after Otago became a province and six years after the University of Otago was established as a corporate body with powers to grant degrees in Arts, Medicine, Law and Music.
In its first eight years the School provided a two-year course only and students were required to go abroad for completion of their training for a medical degree, usually to London or Edinburgh. The right to award the MBChB (NZ) degrees was approved for Otago in 1877 by the then Senate of the University of New Zealand with which the University of Otago had become an affiliated college in 1874. A Faculty of Medicine, as such, was not formally constituted until 1891 at the same time as the appointment of the first Dean, John Halliday Scott, Professor of Anatomy since 1877. The first Otago student to complete the full four-year course, William Ledingham Christie, graduated in 1887. From 1885 onwards there was what was described as a “full curriculum” which followed the recommendations of the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom. With the exception of the Professors of Anatomy, Physiology, and later Pathology, the teachers were mostly part-time clinical lecturers until around 1910 when part-time, and later full-time, professors began to be appointed.
By 1904 some 90 students had graduated MBChB (NZ). In 1920 the course was extended to one of six years. Eventually in 1961, when the University of New Zealand was disestablished, power to confer degrees was restored to the University of Otago.
From 1924 onwards sixth-year medical students were attached to the main centre hospitals in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, as well as in Dunedin. This satisfactory arrangement for clinical teaching was formalised in 1938 with the setting up of “Branch Faculties” of the Otago School in the three northern centres. By this time there were approximately 400 undergraduates in the medical course. The Auckland Branch Faculty was disbanded shortly after the Auckland School of Medicine admitted its first students in 1968 and in Christchurch and Wellington the Branch Faculties were absorbed into the Otago “Clinical Schools” when these opened in 1973 and 1977 respectively.
With increasing numbers of entrants into the medical course in the 1930′s, and with the increasing pressure on staff and facilities, the first limitation on student admissions into the second year was introduced in 1940. The first restriction to 100 per year was modified soon afterwards in 1943 to 120 in response to war-time pressures from the Government of the day. In subsequent years the restricted limits for domestic (New Zealand resident status) students were 150 from 1972-74, 200 from 1975-80, 150 from 1981-85 and 170 from 1986.
In 2004, a further 20 places were made available by Government for students of rural origin, and in 2008 a further 20 places have been funded by Government for domestic students in response to growing workforce needs. Thus the total of domestic entry places is now 210.
The Medical Admissions Committee may also offer a limited number of additional places to foreign students sponsored by a government organization, subject to availability. The usual total number of new second year students entering medicine each year is now approximately 240.
In its first hundred years the Otago Medical School survived several difficulties, most of them attributable to recurrent financial constraints. In the late 1960′s teaching staff shortages, together with a continuing student overload in relation to both the size of the teaching staff and the restricted clinical facilities available in Otago created significant consideration of future directions which, in 1968, led to a special review commissioned by the University of Otago and undertaken by an external assessor, Professor R V Christie, Dean Emeritus of the McGill University Faculty of Medicine. The outcomes of this review, and, in particular, the actions taken by the University and funded by the University Grants Committee, gave new life to the Otago School. These included:
- Parliamentary legislation approving University appointees to the Otago Hospital Board
- University involvement in the rebuilding of the Dunedin Hospital with more complete integration of clinical academic and service departments
- The provision of additional staffing and expanded facilities for the teaching of 200 new students per annum in each of the second and third years in Dunedin
- The opening of formally constituted Schools in Christchurch (first students in 1973) and later in Wellington (first students in 1977).
In 1995, following the first Australian and New Zealand Medical Council review, the Faculty structure changed further. The Faculty of Medicine now comprises the Otago School of Medical Sciences based in Dunedin (Departments of Anatomy and Structural Biology, Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology, Pharmacology and Toxicology, and Physiology) and the Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington Schools.
Initially the roles of the Christchurch and Wellington Schools were in teaching in the final 3 years of the medical undergraduate curriculum. However very soon after their formation they rapidly developed strong postgraduate teaching and research capabilities, features which are now common to all of the Schools.
Further changes, commencing in 2001, saw expansion of the roles of the Christchurch and Wellington Schools to include aspects of health sciences other than medicine. They were therefore renamed as the Christchurch School of Medicine & Health Sciences and the Wellington School of Medicine & Health Sciences. From 2007, these campuses have been named the University of Otago, Christchurch, and the University of Otago, Wellington.
The 10,000th student to graduate from the Faculty’s MB ChB programme received his degree in 2006 (Dr Lincoln Nicholls).
Deans of the Faculty of Medicine:
- JH Scott (1891 – 1914)
- (Sir) H Lindo Ferguson (1914 – 1936)
- (Sir) CE Hercus (1937 – 1958)
- (Sir) EG Sayers (1959 – 1967)
- WE Adams (1968 – 1973)
- JD Hunter (1974 – 1977)
- GL Brinkman (1978 – 1985)
- JD Hunter (1986 – 1990)
- RDH Stewart (1991 -1995)
- AJ Campbell (1995 – 2004)
- LJ Holloway (2005 – 2006)
- DM Roberton (2006 – 2011)
- Peter Crampton (2011-present)