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Friday, April 4, 2014

A Dual DVM/MD Program is Established in Montreal, Canada

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted April 4, 2014
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Montreal, Quebec
Veterinarians can now become physicians with just one year of extra study!! To emphasize the growing understanding that human and veterinary medicine are complementary and that they are founded upon the same scientific principles, the dean of the Montreal Veterinary College has joined forces with a leading physician who has just returned from a tour in Europe. The two renowned academics also share the same avant-garde philosophy of medical teaching. With the veterinary dean’s consent, Canada’s foremost physician, will initiate a research program in comparative medicine and also develop a joint teaching program for medical and veterinary students.

Under the program, veterinary student instruction in physiology, pathology, chemistry and microscopy will be shared with physicians from the McGill University Faculty of Medicine.  In these courses, the content will be the same as that for medical students, and the examinations will be identical.

Students who complete the veterinary curriculum in good standing will be able to take one additional year in the McGill medical curriculum and will qualify as physicians as well as veterinarians.[i]

As you may have guessed if you read this far, the above report is not contemporary. Rather, it is from the 1880s when novel strategic thinking about the health sciences was more prevalent that it is today. And it was only made possible because it was between two of the most brilliant and opportunistic medical minds of the late 19th century.

The physician of the duo was William Osler, then still at McGill (before he went to Philadelphia and from there to Baltimore where he helped establish the Johns Hopkins Hospital). Osler was America’s first comparative pathologist and he even convinced the dean of the Montreal Veterinary College to rename his institution the Faculty of Comparative Medicine.

The veterinarian is someone whose name few will recognize. Many more people know the reputation of his classmate, Andrew Smith, who also graduated in 1861 from the renowned Edinburgh Veterinary College.  Others will know of Cornell’s first veterinary professor, James Law, also a contemporary student from Edinburgh. This third member of the distinguished Scottish trio, and the man with whom Osler felt such a close affinity, was Duncan McNab McEachran.

Duncan McNab McEachran
(Photo from Dictionary of Canadian Biography, see reference 1, below)

Though McEachran was probably the most brilliant of the three veterinarians, and certainly had the career with the greatest versatility, the college he founded in Montreal would only last until 1903 when the continued decline in public funding, and McEachran’s continued insistence on very high academic  standards, led to fewer and fewer students. Though he arranged for teaching sections in both English and French (actually that was another challenge because of the need for faculty in each language), the enrollment continued to fall until McEachran was forced to close. 

Nonetheless, a total of 315 students graduated from the college that many considered one of the best, if not the best, veterinary institution in North America at the time.

McEachran had a multifaceted career in additional to his role as an educator.  He developed the first animal quarantine system for Canada at a time with increased transatlantic movement of livestock was increasing and foot-and-mouth disease was present in Britain. In 1876, he was appointed the chief livestock inspector for Canada and set up quarantine stations that later become a model for the US system. Four years earlier, New York City authorities had invited McEachran to find ways to combat the severe influenza outbreak in horses that had paralyzed the city in what was often referred to as the great equine epizootic of 1872.

By the 1890’s, McEachran branched into controlling tuberculosis through tuberculin testing.  Twenty years before the practice was accepted, he recommended a system for producing and distributing milk in Montreal. Within the professional organizations for veterinary medicine, he worked with Andrew Smith to improve the training of graduate veterinarians, and to reduce the possibility of charlatans from plying their trade. His writings and political action were instrumental in creating the Board of Veterinary Surgeons for the Province of Quebec.

In later life, his entrepreneurial spirit led him to areas of financial profit as a stockbreeder, when he helped establish two of the largest ranches in western Canada.

Like so many other events in veterinary history, sometimes programs close and other times the full expression of peoples’ talents and passions are never realized for other reasons. I think of the untimely closure of Harvard’s Veterinary College in 1901, the dismissal of Daniel Salmon from the Bureau of Animal Industry in the same decade, the death (was it really of natural causes?) of Pennsylvania’s Dean Leonard Pearson, the decision to keep Cornell’s veterinary college in Ithaca, rather than have it join its partner medical school when it moved to New York City, the tragic rule of anti-Semitism over rationality in the closure of Middlesex University in the 1940s. The list goes on.

The closure of McGill’s Faculty of Comparative Medicine is one of the great tragedies in the history of veterinary medicine.  Another way to think of McEachran’s lost impact could be imagined if he had come to the US after the turn of the century, and landed at one of the veterinary colleges in New York City (perhaps Columbia or New York University, for example) or at the University of Pennsylvania, or maybe even in Washington, what a different world veterinary medicine would be today.  One can only dream of the impact he could have had on the development of veterinary medicine and One Health, both as an individual, and through his continued association with physicians like William Osler.

Dr. Smith welcomes comments at

[i] Adapted, with some literary license from the Biography of Duncan McNab McEachran. Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume XV (1921-1930), University of Toronto/Universite Laval, 2005