Welcome to the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014-2015. During its half-century existence, the Department has established itself as a world leader in education and research.
Although there was a professor of public health at McGill as early as the end of the 19th Century it was not until the arrival of Dr. J. Corbett McDonald in 1964 that a formal Department of Epidemiology and Health was created and graduate degrees in Epidemiology and Medical Statistics began being offered a few years later. Prior to that, teaching in public health sciences was concentrated in the medical curriculum.
Starting shortly after 1964, the Department recruited its first faculty members and created the MSc and PhD degrees in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. After interims by Dr. Frank Mount and Dr. Sidney Lee in 1973-74, Dr. McDonald was succeeded by Dr. Robert Oseasohn in 1976 and, after an interim by Dr. Stanley Shapiro in 1983-84, by Dr. Walter O. Spitzer. In 1974, Dr. Graham Gibbs was appointed Founding Director of the Institute of Occupational Health and Safety which was originally located in Mont St-Hilaire and linked to the Faculties of Graduate Studies, Engineering and Medicine. The Institute offered short courses, a Diploma in Occupational Hygiene, consultation services and conducted research on a wide range of occupational health problems. In 1981, Dr. McDonald returned to McGill as Director of the Institute, who was succeeded in 1983 by Dr. Gilles Thériault who led the change of the Institute to a School of Occupational Health which moved to the downtown campus of McGill.
The 1970s and 1980s were marked by the rapid growth of clinical epidemiology, cancer epidemiology, health services research and clinical trials at McGill. In Occupational Health, work on asbestos and other mineral fibers continued as well as research on bladder cancer in aluminum smelter workers and on the health effects of electro-magnetic field in Hydro workers. Many of the McGill teaching hospitals created clinical epidemiology units which became the home of several of the Department’s faculty members as well as of clinical associate members. During the same two decades, major changes in the health care system and in the public health system were taking place in the province of Quebec and in Canada. The Department of Community Health of the Montreal General Hospital, created in 1974, housed the clinical public health faculty members of the Department and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada accredited medical specialty training program in Public Health and Preventive Medicine.
In the 1990s pharmacoepidemiology, clinical epidemiology and health services continued to thrive as Dr. J.C. Bailar III, Dr. T. Wolfson and Dr. A. Lippman (as interim co-chairs) led the Department.
In 1996, the School of Occupational Health was merged with the Department to create a new Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health and Dr. Gilles Thériault became the chairman of the new “joint” Department. After an interim by Dr. J. Hanley, he was succeeded in 2001 by Dr. Rebecca Fuhrer, a mental health researcher recruited from University College London. Dr. Fuhrer remained chair for slightly more than 11 years and undertook one of the most ambitious recruitment efforts the Department has seen in its history and which expanded and transformed it into the leader in public and population health research that it is today while maintaining and enhancing its enviable standing in clinical epidemiology, biostatistics and causal research.
Over the past decade, the Department created separate degree programs in biostatistics (MSc and PhD) in addition to its well-established MSc and PhD in epidemiology. In addition, it created a new MSc degree in Public Health which, although recent, already attracts outstanding graduate students.
Our 50 year history has been exciting and has placed the Department among the best in the world. What does the future hold for us? As we embark on our next half-century we are more committed than ever to excellence in teaching and in research, we plan to continue our expansion in public and population health sciences and to increase our historical strengths in clinical epidemiology. We will remain one of the best places for methods training in the world and hence we intend to expand our biostatistics and epidemiological methods research. We will invest in occupational and environmental health which represents one of the most important public health challenges for our planet.
The future of public and population health research, clinical epidemiology, biostatistics and occupational and environmental health will be exciting at McGill over the next decade. Our graduate programs will continue producing stellar researchers and practitioners who will make a difference and will contribute to improving the health and well-being of populations in Canada and worldwide well into the 21st century.
I invite you to join us on this exciting journey by visiting our website and becoming involved as a student, a volunteer, a donor or a partner.