The Early Years by Fred E. Bryans, Emeritus Professor and former head (1959-1980) of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of UBC is a most valuable contribution to the history of the Department and of the Faculty. Recording who the individuals were and the contributions they made reinforces the fact that it is the people, the committed faculty and staff and the outstanding trainees that makes things go well.

As the department head, Dr. Bryans was responsible for the performance of the University elements of the department, consisting of teaching and research; and the hospital elements, excellence in patient care. The original members of the Clinical staff in the 1950-80 period are introduced in the first part of the book. The Specialty underwent a dramatic shift in the 1950-1980 period from the clinical discipline focused on the mechanical aspects of labour and delivery and on surgical gynaecology to the wider issues of women’s health and consideration of social issues and research into the scientific underpinning of the reproductive process. Dr. Bryans describes the setting into which the Department came: the Vancouver General Hospital, Grace Hospital and St Paul’s Hospital provided contributions.

Academic programs first followed traditions of the 1950s and sixties -- eventually changing into its more flexible and rewarding clinical clerkships of the fourth-year students. More focused residency experiences were introduced in the 1970s -- including fetal assessment in the antepartum and intrapartum periods, use of ultrasound,reproductive endocrinology, and genetics.

Funding sources were often short in the early years. Those appointed to the staff had to be attracted to the challenges more than the renumeration. Eventually it was recognized by the Medical Services Commission that payment of physicians in teaching hospitals was an essential component of patient care in various specific areas.

A confusing period of planning for future facility development took place in the early 1973-75 period. Eventually, largely influenced by public pressure and by the continuing work of obstetric and neonatal professionals for improved maternity care by 1976 the Ministry of Health approved the construction of a combined maternity and children’s hospital.

From the early years a major strength of the department was in the areas of oncology. Close working relationships between radiotherapists at the BC Cancer Institute and surgical pathologists led the way to increased interest in cytology. With the establishment of an endocrinology laboratory the Reproductive Endocrinology and infertility division gained strength.

Changing public attitudes and values lead to the revised law of 1969 ruling that abortion was not illegal when performed under certain specified terms. For practical purposes, the Vancouver General became the only Vancouver hospital to carry out abortions. The pressure for space, facilities and staff was huge and taxing. Eventually a Daycare surgical unit was developed to get away from the overcrowded inpatient facilities.

Interdepartmental collaborations evolved step by step with the Department of Paediatrics with major interest in and commitment to the newborn. Cooperative bridges were formed with the Departments of Medical Genetics and Pathology, and the Human Embryology Lab. In 1978 a separate ultrasound facility advanced the research and clinical role in gynaecology and fertility investigations became a significant areas of care.

These were the so-called early years: those who were part of that period had the privilege to be present at the birth and nurturing of an important clinical department.


The Early Years: The History of the University of British Columbia Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 1950 -1980 (University of BC Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 2005). Layout and production by The Media Group at UBC. Hard cover. 93 pages.

[Summarized by George Szasz, CM,MD 2021]