Day at the Museums!

This day was a day of museum. We were given information to get into the Surgeons’ Hall Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the National Museum of Scotland and were allowed to go through them at our own pace. Some of us also visited the National Galleries of Scotland. This was fun, as there were a lot of interesting things in the museums that we would have missed on a tighter deadline. First stop was the Surgeons’ Hall Museum.

The Surgeons’ Hall Museum was made of three parts: pathology, dentistry, and technology in medicine. There were many pieces of medical history in the museum that helped to shed light on how medicine has grown as a profession. Things like washing your hands before performing a surgery were not common practice and actually learning these things and putting them into practice was a major step forward for medicine and public health. These advances in medicine helped increase life expectancy. We thought that the technology in health exhibit exemplified this. There were a number of exhibits that showcased how robots and other technologies are now being used in surgical theater. These technologies have led to shorter recovery times and better outcomes. These technologies cannot operate on their own, they still needs skilled surgeons. Surgeons must practice these techniques and hone their skill set over many hours.

In the 1800s, cadavers were the only way for medical students to learn anatomy and physiology. At this time, if you were a criminal that was executed by the Scottish Government, your body would have been donated for medical science. However, since Edinburgh was the hub of medicine and anatomy, there were many medical students training in the city with few cadavers available.  This led to an underground trade of bodies that were sold to medical theaters, in order to be used as teaching aids.

Graveyard Watchtower to catch grave robbers

As we discussed in the previous blog, this led to the rise of “body snatching” and to more nefarious cases, such as Burke and Hare, who murdered at least 16 people to sell their bodies to Dr. Robert Knox for dissection. Their methods, involving intoxication and suffocation, highlighted the era’s disregard for the poor and the desperate lengths people went to escape poverty. Public outrage over the murders reflected a sense of morality amidst hardship. This dark chapter underscored the need for ethical sourcing of cadavers and stricter regulations in medical research. The visit was more than a scare; it was a sobering lesson on the importance of ethical practices and health equity, instilling in us a responsibility to advocate for these principles as future public health professionals.

Next, we visited the National Museum of Scotland. This museum was full of different exhibits, mainly focused on science and culture. There was an amazing nature and animals exhibit that spanned three floors and talked about topics from evolution to climate change. There were also cultural exhibits with items from Egypt, Eastern Asia, Scotland, and more. These exhibits were interesting, as they showed what the culture and communities of these areas at certain times in history were like. Dolly the Sheep was also featured in this museum!

Dolly the Sheep

Dolly was the first successful cloning of the living mammal. She represents a huge leap in science and medical technology and possibly one of the next steps in the health sector. Cloning would present some interesting public health challenges, both ethically as well as medically. The National Museum of Scotland was also highly interactive, which kept us all interested and engaged.

We visited the National Galleries of Scotland on our own today as well. This is a free art museum that is separated into two buildings: one in a beautiful Victorian style building and the other a more modern one. It is home to one of the greatest art collections in the world and they have a variety of art from modern and contemporary. In these galleries, you can dive into dramatic landscapes, encounter iconic images, and be wowed by the very best of Scottish art from 1800 to 1945. We also marveled at spectacular views over Edinburgh and discovered other works of pioneering Scottish artists such as William McTaggart, Anne Redpath, Phoebe Anna Traquair, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Boys. They even have portraits of people who shaped Scotland over time, artists like Ramsey and Raeburn. There is also art by Botticelli, Monet, Van Gogh and much more.

As we walked through the halls of these museums, we couldn’t help but think about how culture and health are so intertwined. The implications of access to free museums can change how people see themselves. It can increase our sense of wellbeing and belonging and help us feel proud of where we come from. It can inspire, challenge, and even stimulate us. As we have seen from our studies, human health and culture play an integral part in the social determinants of health. It is important to understand culture so that we can implement interventions that are culturally appropriate and acceptable to the populations that we serve.  

From the growth of medical technology and pathology to the availability of free public spaces, Edinburgh’s museums show both the past of public health, the present of today’s public education, and the future of health in Scotland. Knowing the history of a community and how we have gotten to where we are today allows us to further our learning and proceed into the future better prepared and more culturally competent.

One thought on “Day at the Museums!”

  1. Culture and Health….inseparable, as you are finding out! I’m enjoying reading your blog posts and look forward to hearing more. Glad that you are having this immersive experience! Regards, Paul Erwin

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