Trailblazing pain pioneer Ronald Melzack to be inducted into Medical Hall of Fame

November 10, 2008

Dr. Ronald Melzack O.C., a McGill University psychologist who revolutionized the study and treatment of pain from the 1960s onward, has been inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. He and his four fellow 2009 inductees from across Canada join 71 existing Hall of Fame laureates who "brought distinction to Canada through their outstanding contributions to medical science and the improved health and well-being of people everywhere."

Melzack was born in 1929 and grew up in a working-class district of Montreal. The only member of his family to attend university, he studied psychology at McGill under the great Dr. Donald Hebb and obtained his PhD in 1954. He became interested in the puzzle of pain at the University of Oregon after an encounter with a woman whose leg had been amputated but who still experienced terrible "phantom pain" in the missing limb.

Several years later, at MIT, he began to collaborate with Dr. Patrick Wall, who was interested in the same phenomenon. Their historic partnership led to the 1965 publication of the revolutionary Gate Control Theory of Pain, which overturned the then-accepted view of pain as a primitive, unchanging "warning system" that the body is in danger. Instead, Melzack and Wall theorized that psychological factors and environment play a large role, and that pain is subjective and ultimately at the mercy of the brain.

Melzack returned to McGill and developed one of the most powerful pain research tools in use today: the McGill Pain Questionnaire, which allows patients to precisely pinpoint the type and degree of pain they are experiencing. The questionnaire has since been translated into 20 languages and is accepted as a standard worldwide. Melzack was also the co-founder of the first pain clinics in Canada at the Royal Victoria Hospital in 1972, and the Montreal General Hospital in 1974, both of which now belong to the McGill University Health Centre. It is his empathy for those suffering from chronic pain however that is perhaps his greatest gift of all.

"I am deeply grateful to have my name alongside my teacher Dr. Donald Hebb who was inducted in 2003," said Melzack, who is now Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at McGill University. "I sincerely hope that I, too, will serve as an inspiration for students everywhere through this prestigious and unexpected honour. Thank you to The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame for making this happen, and particularly in my hometown of Montreal!"

The 2009 Inductees were selected by an independent committee of prominent leaders from Canada's medical community.

"Dr. Melzack's contributions to our understanding of pain and our ability to reduce human suffering are immeasurable," said Dr. Richard Levin, Vice-Principal (Health Affairs) and Dean of McGill's Faculty of Medicine. "We congratulate this great McGill scholar on his richly deserved induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame."

"The selection of this year's candidates was both a demanding and gratifying experience for all members of the selection committee," said Dr. Alain Beaudet, president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and chair of the Selection Committee. "Indeed, the Canadian scene abounds with outstanding scientists, care providers and visionary builders of medicine, all of whom deserve our recognition and appreciation. This year's inductees exude excellence, not only in their achievements, but also as exceptional human beings."

Melzack's fellow 2009 inductees include Dr. Sylvia O. Fedoruk, Dr. Tak Wah Mak, Dr. Charles H. Tator and Dr. Mladen Vranic. More than 500 of Canada's leading citizens will come together to celebrate the formal induction of the incoming laureates on April 29, 2009, in Montreal.
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About the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame is the only national organization dedicated to recognizing Canada's medical heroes. Through an exhibit hall in London, Ont., and a national educational program, thousands of Canadians gain a greater appreciation of our country's contribution to global health care, and more young people pursue careers in medicine and the health sciences.

About McGill University

McGill University, founded in Montreal, Que., in 1821, is Canada's leading post-secondary institution. It has two campuses, 11 faculties, 10 professional schools, 300 programs of study and more than 33,000 students. McGill attracts students from more than 160 countries around the world. Almost half of McGill students claim a first language other than English - including 6,000 francophones - with more than 6,200 international students making up almost 20 per cent of the student body.

McGill University

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