Stepping Stones

15 Years of the Medical History Museum

Medical School Foyer
Ninewells Hospital & Medical School, Dundee
9 July 2004 - 22 February 2005
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 10am-5pm

Fifteen years ago, the first exhibition was mounted in the Medical School by the Medical History Museum committee. This exhibition celebrates that anniversary by looking at the history of the museum and its collections, and by paying tribute to its first curator Laura Adam, who sadly died in January 2004.

In September 1988, Prof Charles Forbes of the Department of Medicine at the University of Dundee sent out enquiries to all departments at Ninewells Hospital and Dundee Royal Infirmary, seeking to recruit interested parties for the purpose of setting up a medical museum. A committee was formed which met for the first time on 13 October 1988. Dr W K Stewart was elected Chairman and Mrs Laura Adam agreed to act as Secretary. Also on the committee were Prof Forbes, Mrs Auld, Dr Emslie-Smith, Mr King, Prof Lowe, Mr McKenzie, Dr McLeod, Mr Orrock and Dr Shepherd.

The committee were put to work almost immediately when the Scottish Museums Council commissioned a report on university museums in Scotland, and its author Laura Drysdale visited Dundee in November 1988 to view the collections. Every department in the Medical School was asked to look out its hidden treasures, and the results formed the basis of the Medical History Museum Collection.

In April 1989, the committee welcomed an official visit by the members of UMIS (University Museums in Scotland), and a small display was mounted here in the Medical School foyer. With display cases borrowed from the Bonar Hall, this became the Museum's first public exhibition. In the same month, the Museum was also given its first permanent storeroom.

early display case

The Medical History Museum has never had regular funding from either the University or the NHS. Two of the three display cases used here were purchased with donations generously given by Prof Forbes. The first was acquired in 1990, allowing the Museum to have a permanent exhibition space from then on. Exhibitions were normally changed once a year, and covered such subjects as aspirin, x-rays, cardiology and Doctors of the DRI.

In 1992 the committee began to make the necessary preparations to allow the Museum to be officially Registered with the Scottish Museums Council (and thus become eligible for grant aid). A constitution was drawn up in 1993 that agreed joint responsibility between the University and the NHS.

In 1994 the University appointed its first Curator to catalogue and care for all of its various museum collections. The Medical History Museum thus became part of the University Museum Collections, with Laura Adam appointed as honorary curator. Although the committee continued to meet occasionally, the Museum was now largely being run single-handedly by Laura.

The closure of DRI led to considerable additions to the collection, not least a splendid variety of portraits which now adorn the Medical School lecture theatres. The Museum has also expanded its exhibition areas to include display cases in the main hospital foyer and the X-Ray department waiting room.

Laura's illness in her last few years meant that the Museum went through a period of inactivity in 2000 and 2001. In 2002 the new University Curator Matthew Jarron began work on cataloguing the sizeable backlog of material, and in 2003 (with help from student volunteer Jane Freel) mounted new exhibitions both here and in the main foyer. Laura continued to give help and advice where possible.

Following Laura's death, Dr Graham Lowe of the Dermatology department agreed to take over Laura's role as honorary curator of the Medical History Museum. He would be keen to hear from anyone interested in helping with the future development of the Museum, or regarding potential material for the collection. Please e-mail

Laura Adam

Laura Adam (1939 - 2004)

Laura Adam (nee Fleming) was born in Glasgow and studied there at the University. She came to work as a researcher at the University of Dundee (then known as Queen's College) in 1962. Working with Dr W K Stewart and latterly Dr I Henderson, she developed a major interest in the problems of patients suffering from renal impairment and renal failure. In particular, her team made major advances in the problems of handling aluminium, iron and magnesium. These studies resulted in many practical improvements in long term care. Her work with erythrapoeten resulted in major long-term gains in patients' physical and mental well-being.

Laura's main interest, however, was medical history, and the Medical History Museum is her lasting legacy. In 1988 she and Prof Charles Forbes set up a committee which resulted in the founding of the Museum and the staging of exhibitions based on its collection. In 1994 Laura was officially recognised by the University Court as honorary curator of the Museum, a position she had been fulfilling unofficially since its inception. From 1989 to 2000 she staged regular medical exhibitions here in the foyer, including Bright Ideas, Doctors of the DRI and The Eyes Have It.

Laura also had a great interest in medical-related art, and organised several exhibitions in the adjoining corridor, many featuring work by students at Duncan of Jordanstone College. Perhaps her greatest achievement was the Millennium Triptych Panel, created by members of the Dundee & East of Scotland Embroiderers Guild based on designs by Laura. Click here to see the impressive results.

"Laura was diagnosed with cancer some time before I first met her, but remained entirely cheerful and optimistic throughout the various treatments she had to endure. While her death could not have been unexpected, therefore, she had always seemed so full of life that it still came as a shock. She will certainly be greatly missed by everyone who knew her." - Matthew Jarron, Curator of Museum Services

"Many who worked in the medical school have been touched by her widespread interests and works. These will remain as her permanent memorial." - Prof Charles Forbes, School of Medicine

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