The unexpected history of medicine and health at Sydney

26 April 2018
11 interesting facts about medicine and health at the University
As the new Faculty of Medicine and Health is launched, we reveal all the things you didn’t realise you wanted to know about the history of medicine and health at the University of Sydney.
Fire damaged building

View of the fire damage to the adjoining building, Sydney Dental Hospital on the left on 17 June 1919. City of Sydney Archives.

1.  The purpose-built Sydney Dental Hospital almost burnt down seven years after it was opened due to a fire that spread from the adjoining building.

2.  The University of Sydney Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery on Mallett Street used to be a Bonds factory in the 1930s – you can still see the classic Chesty Bonds mural from the street.

3.  The School of Rural Health in the Dubbo and Orange regions has a partnership with the Dubbo Base Hospital, which services 15% of the NSW land mass.

A medical gymnastics class in 1906. RPA Heritage News.

  There once was a ‘medical gymnastics’ branch of RPA that treated twisted backs, legs or arms. Medical gymnastics eventually grew into what we refer to today as physiotherapy.

Illustration of the assassination attempt. National Library of Australia.

RPA was constructed thanks to a £30,000 fundraiser that came about after Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh was shot in an assassination attempt in 1868. Moved by the care he received by nurses and other medical staff in Sydney, he donated the community-raised funds to build the hospital. Today, several of the medicine and nursing schools and research centres operate out of RPA.

Nurses protesting

Nurses protesting in Sydney prior to the founding of the Sydney Nursing School, 1982. University of Sydney Archives.

6.  After 573 undergrad nurses enrolled in 1985 (the largest intake of undergrad nurses in Australian history), the need for an official nursing school could no longer be overlooked. The Faculty of Nursing was established in 1991, putting an end to over 75 years of advocacy from nursing organisations.

7.  Sydney Dental School has provided more than a quarter of a million hours of direct patient care for the most disadvantaged people in our communities.

8.  The School of Public Health has resided in the same building since its inception in 1930. (See image at top).

9.  Westmead Hospital, home to the Westmead Clinical School, serves the largest area and population of any of the University’s clinical schools.

10.  Louisa Wilson was the first female to graduate in any division of health at the University, completing a pharmacy degree in 1899.

Susan Wakil Health Building to be completed 2019.

The Susan and Isaac Wakil Foundation donated $10.6 million to the Sydney Nursing School for scholarships. They then donated a further $35 million to the building of the new Health Precinct, making it the largest donation the University has received.