Have you ever noticed that old, worn building next to the Font and on the corner of Hope Street and Mount Pleasant? The Liverpool Medical Institute (LMI) sits there, squat, laden down with almost two centuries of soot and dirt obscuring the beautiful sandstone pillars. When I embarked on my journey to attend the 42nd Henry Cohen Lecture on the 27th October, I had no idea of what awaited me inside…
To the majority of students, the name ‘Henry Cohen’ doesn’t mean much at all. If you are familiar with the name, chances are you know it as the name of that old, cold lecture theatre in the Duncan Building. Henry Cohen (1900-1977) was a doctor, who became head of the Liverpool medical school in 1934, received a knighthood and was president of the British Medical Association, amongst many other things. He devoted his life to teaching, and maintained life-long links with the university.
In 1972, the first Henry Cohen Lecture was held in his honour, and it has been held every year since.
I got off the bus and trudged down Mount Pleasant, the lights of the LMI glistening and illuminating a sign directing me towards the back entrance through the car park.
As I entered through an unassuming door, I was greeted by high ceilinged rooms lined with book cases crammed with medical tomes. Heavy glass cabinets displaying artefacts of Liverpool’s history of medical innovation sank into the deep blue carpet. I followed the flow of people through a curved, wooden door and entered a mosaic floored room with suited men and well turned out people milling around.
In the centre of the room, the mosaics came together to form the Caduceus, a staff entwined by two snakes, a symbol synonymous with medicine.
We all made our way into the lecture theatre, entering via the balcony, to take our seats on the plush, red velvet benches. I couldn’t help but admire my surroundings: dark wooden panels; old portraits of great scientists and doctors gazing down on us; a soft light making for a warm, cosy atmosphere.
The chatter and hubbub subsided as the lecture began. The speaker, a professor of medical history, Mark Harrison, took to the lectern.
This year’s lecture was titled ‘Britain’s Medical War: Health and Medicine in the British Army during WWI’. Professor Harrison took us on a whistle-stop tour of how medicine played its part in the war.
Did you know that it was the first war where there were more fatalities caused in action, than by disease? For every ten people who died on the battlefield, seven died of disease. Compare this to only a few decades earlier, in the Crimean War, where fifty people died of disease for every ten people who died in action.
We learned about a rogue General, Sir Arthur Sloggett, who kept his medical officers, and the British Government, in the dark about how badly the war was going in Mesopotamia (Northern Iraq).
When the lecture finished, the theatre erupted with applause. Personally, I have never found a lecture so interesting. The emphasis was on history, rather than medicine, making it enjoyable for the whole audience.
I have no doubt that I will return next year for the 43rd Henry Cohen Lecture. And you should too- if not to enjoy the lecture, just to marvel at the opulence of the building and steep yourself in its rich history.