McGill in mourning for beloved pioneering doctor, professor and medical education researcher

McGill University and the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences community are grieving the loss of our dear colleague and friend, Sylvia Robinson Cruess, MD, Professor Emerita of Medicine and Health Sciences Education, who passed away on September 8 at age 92. Dr. Cruess is survived by her husband of nearly 70 years, Richard Cruess, MD, Professor Emeritus of Surgery and former Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, their sons Leigh and Andrew, four grandchildren and countless friends and loved ones. Our thoughts are with them during this difficult time.

Sylvia Robinson Cruess, Columbia University, 1955 (Columbia Yearbook)

Sylvia Robinson Cruess was born and raised in Cleveland and received a Bachelor of Arts from Vassar College in 1951. After graduating from Columbia’s medical school in 1955, she and her new husband,  wishing to stay together for the rest of their training, came to Montreal to undertake their internships in medicine and surgery at the Royal Victoria Hospital. The young couple fell in love with the Vic and with Montreal and in 1963, after completing their postgraduate training in endocrinology and orthopaedic surgery in New York, came back to take up positions at the hospital and at McGill.

In 1968, Dr. Sylvia Cruess was asked to head up the Metabolic Day Centre, transforming it into a world-class multidisciplinary clinic that became a model for diabetes care across the country. In 1978, she became Medical Director (now Director of Professional Services, or DPS) of the Royal Vic, the first woman in Quebec and likely in Canada to hold such a high-ranking hospital position. She told Health e-News that, despite being the target of sexist remarks from time to time, she didn’t really feel intimidated as a woman in leadership, saying she had been inspired by the example of trailblazing female leaders like Virginia Apgar (originator of the famous Apgar score for newborns) who had been her teacher at Columbia.

In 1995, after steering the Vic through nearly three decades of rapid change, Dr. Cruess stepped down from her role and, with her husband (Dr. Richard Cruess stepped down as Dean at the same time), embarked on a sabbatical year with a new project on medical professionalism. This set the pair on a new joint career path in medical education as part of the Centre for Medical Education (now the Institute of Health Sciences Education (IHSE)). Their work helped inform a transformation of the undergraduate medical education program at McGill, with an emphasis on professionalism and professional identity formation of physicians. Their research and writing has become seminal and is used to educate medical and health sciences students and practitioners around the world, to advance curricular design and advance scholarship in medical and health sciences.

David Eidelman, MDCM, VP (Health Affairs) and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, feels privileged to have known Dr. Cruess over the course of his career at McGill and the Royal Vic. “This is devastating news for our community,” he says. “Dr. Sylvia Cruess was an icon, revered for her dedication and generosity as a teacher, physician and leader. It was my honour to have worked with her over the years. We at the Faculty are grateful for having benefited from her wisdom, warmth and humour for so long. She will truly be missed.”

“Members of the IHSE are grieving the loss of a legend,” says IHSE Director Anne Kinsella, PhD. “Dr. Sylvia Cruess was a beloved and longstanding member of the Centre for Medical Education, and the IHSE community. She was well known for her sustained leadership in the McGill medical community over decades, and for her impactful scholarship on professionalism, professional identity formation and the social contract in medical and health sciences education and practice.  Dr. Cruess will be fondly remembered for her leadership, mentorship and support of innumerable medical and health sciences organizations, practitioners, and scholars across her lifetime. She has been a friend, mentor and inspiration to people at the IHSE. There are no words to express our sorrow. The IHSE will commemorate Dr. Cruess’ legacy and continue to support her passion for advancing research and scholarship in medical and health sciences education through the Sylvia Cruess Memorial Fund.”

A memorial service will be held at the Glen Campus of the McGill University Health Centre at 3 p.m. on November 19 to celebrate Dr. Cruess’ remarkable life. In lieu of flowers, Dr. Cruess’ family asks that you consider making a donation in her honour to the Sylvia Cruess Memorial Fund at the Institute of Health Sciences Education or the Sylvia Cruess Memorial Fund at the MUHC Foundation.

Royal Victoria Hospital House Staff 1955-56: Dr. Sylvia Cruess is in the back row, eighth from the left, and Dr. Richard Cruess is in the third row, third from the left. (Photo courtesy McGill University Archives Photo Collection, PL006584. Photographer not listed.)



Obituary: Remembering Sylvia Robinson Cruess (The Gazette)

On the Passing of a Medical Education Pioneer: A Tribute to Dr. Sylvia Cruess (MUHC)