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Maws & Bairns - Maternal and Neonatal care in Dundee

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

As part of their student-selected components (SSC), 2nd-year medical students, Kirsten Healey and Hannah Dalioui spent a month working with the collections at the Tayside Medical History Museum. SSCs are an important part of medical training at the University of Dundee Medical School aiming to establish a foundation for lifelong learning and explore new ways of communicating information in non-clinical settings.

Together with the University of Dundee Museums team, Kirsten and Hannah designed a new mini-exhibition titled Maws & Bairns - Maternal and Neonatal Care, and produced two blog posts highlighting some of their favourite artefacts from their exhibition.

Interview with Ellena Salariya

Their first post was an interview with retired midwife and past chair of the Dundee Branch of the Royal College of Midwives, Ellena Salariya.

Photograph from 1974 showing the last baby born at DRI held by Ellena Salariya (left), and the first baby born at Ninewells Hospital held by Shelia Brown (right).

Ellena agreed to meet with Kirsten and shared her memories of working in Dundee Royal Infirmary and Ninewells Hospital as well as as a community midwife in Glasgow. Her insights fascinated the students including finding out that until 1944 there was an official ban on employing married women in hospitals. When Ellena joined the staff at the Special Care Baby Unit in 1953 she was one of the first married women to be employed in the Dundee Royal Infirmary. Kirsten said that meeting with Ellena and hearing a first-hand account of life in the DRI was the most rewarding part of the SSC experience for her.

Interesting Artefacts

In their second post, Kirsten and Hannah delved into the stories of discovery behind two artefacts they recognised from their teaching.

The first was an icterometer, used to measure the progression of jaundice in a newborn. Designed by Dr Issac Henry Gosset (1907 – 1965) in 1954 this simple perspex comparator.

Although other more accurate tests are used today, Hannah and Kirsten recognised the use of this small and quick device.

Gosset Icterometer, University of Dundee Museums DUNUC 8932

The next object they found was Ergometrine which they chose to display alongside a sample of the plant fungus, Ergot of Rye, from which the drug is derived from.

Botanical teaching chart from the 1890s depicting ergot, University of Dundee Museums DUNUC 3839/121

It had been known since the 16th century that ergot could prevent heavy bleeding during childbirth by narrowing the blood vessels and causing uterine contractions, but it was not used in clinical practice due to the unpredictable effects of ergotism.

It was Montrose born John Chassar Moir (1900-1977) and a team of researchers in Oxford in the 1930s that discovered the contractions were due to the aqueous extract of ergot, from which the active principle ergometrine could be isolated. All of this was accomplished at a total cost of six shillings, a feat Moir proudly attributed to his Scottish inheritance!

Local Stories

As part of the display, a panel explores the history of Maternal and Neonatal care in Dundee. Topics include the early establishment of an experimental restaurant opened in 1906 by the Dundee Social Union providing breakfast free of charge to new mothers provided they stayed off work for three months to breastfeed. This was particularly important for the large female workforce employed in Dundee's jute mills without paid maternity leave.

The panel also covers the Special Care Baby unit which was part of the new Ninewells hospital when it opened in 1974, and Ross Mitchell, a consultant paediatrician in Dundee who became the UK's first full-time consultant in neonatal paediatrics in 1961.

The exhibition is available on Level 8 of Ninewells Medical School until May 2024

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