Mater Misericordiae Hospital

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The first formal arrangement between the Mater Hospital, North Sydney, and the University of Sydney involving undergraduate medical student teaching, was entered into in 1966. In that year, the Hospital was approached by the Sydney University Medical Society and agreed to accept four fifth-year students for their unallocated term, commencing 1 September 1966 and ending on 28 February in the following year. Quite coincidentally, the General Superintendent, John Westphalen, had proposed to the Advisory Board of the Hospital in 1966 that a dialogue be initiated with the University of Sydney concerning affiliation of the Mater as a teaching hospital.

With the approval of the Board and the encouragement of the Sisters of Mercy, innovative proposals were canvassed at length with the then Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Professor John Loewenthal, in December of that year. In 1967, representatives of the Hospital met formally with Professor Loewenthal. A prospective teaching status for the Mater Hospital was discussed, based upon an innovative and unique arrangement that was subsequently implemented with bilaterally recognized success. In brief, singular features of the proposal were as follows:

1. The Mater would not, in the interests of economy, establish its own separate clinical school. It would, rather, work through and in conjunction with the already-established clinical school at the Royal North Shore Hospital.

2. Beds available in the contiguous Private Hospital would be utilized for teaching purposes. 3. Student allocation to the Hospital would be on a rotating basis so that all students of the Royal North Shore Hospital Clinical School would receive maximum exposure to the combined teaching facilities.

4. To control these arrangements, the Mater Hospital would work through the University Board of Studies already operating at the Royal North Shore Hospital.

5. All teaching arrangements and student allocations would be organized through the Warden of the Clinical School of the Royal North Shore Hospital, rather than be arranged separately at the Mater.

6. In all other respects, the Hospital would relate to the University, as do other teaching hospitals, through a conjoint University/Hospital Board.

After reaching agreement with the Royal North Shore Hospital, the Mater received a formal invitation from the Senate of the University to affiliate as a general teaching hospital in August 1968; teaching commenced in 1969 with initial numbers divided into two groups of seven students each on a rotating basis. From those beginnings, the coordinated Mater/Royal North Shore teaching nexus moved from success to success, confirmed by consistently positive feedback from students. This undergraduate teaching model is unique, insofar as we know, throughout Australia, and has since developed to encompass students in all clinical years. Special training in rehabilitation and geriatrics has been added, and some six to twelve overseas undergraduates are placed at the Mater each year for ‘live-in’ training.

The ongoing success of the integrated programme was in significant part due to the enthusiasm and cooperation of the Wardens of the Clinical School at Royal North Shore Hospital and their Clinical Supervisors: first I. Monk, then G. E. Bauer. To those people were joined Professor D. W. Piper (Medicine), Professor T. S. Reeve (Surgery), and the late Associate Professor G. E. Coupland. These three men, in particular, enthusiastically developed academic arrangements and monitored teaching standards.

With the closure of the public beds at the Hospital, the role of the Mater and its relationship to the Faculty of Medicine will change. For the future, the Mater looks forward to a continuing role in medical education through its private beds. It is fortuitous, but proper, that this brief history of an era and a successful cost-effective teaching innovation be recorded in such a historical document as the Centenary Book, marking the hundredth birthday of Sydney University Medical School.

Source: J. B. Westphalen, "Mater Misericordiae Hospital" in Young J, Sefton A and Webb N, Centenary Book of the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine. Sydney University Press, Sydney