William Thomas Aikins, Dean of Medicine 1887-1893
William Thomas Aikins was born at Toronto Township, Upper Canada on 4 June 1827. Aikins was the first dean of the refounded Faculty of Medicine. The son of Protestant Irish immigrants, he studied at John Rolph's Toronto School of Medicine from 1847 to 1849, then sought further training in surgery at the renowned Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, receiving an MD in 1850. Aikins then returned to Toronto as John Rolph's partner in private practise, and later joined Rolph's school as an instructor in anatomy in 1850.
Beginning in 1853, given the increasing determination of medical students to obtain degrees and the school's lack of degree-granting authority, Aikins became one of the strongest advocates of a faculty at the University of Toronto. In 1856, the staff of Toronto School of Medicine took control of the school from Rolph; Aikins, then professor of surgery, became dean of the school. Through his efforts, the Toronto School of Medicine became the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine in 1887, with Aikins serving as the first dean of the new medical faculty.
As a superb teacher and surgeon for four decades, Aikins reputedly had few equals throughout Canada. His impressive teaching style was grounded in sound advice and frequent practical demonstrations in classrooms and clinics. Careful, thorough, yet inventive and scientifically-minded, Aikins did much in his career to advance the cause of surgery among Toronto-trained physicians. For instance, he designed a splint for upper-arm fractures and a device for continuously cooling inflamed joints, refined surgical procedures to reduce haemorrhage during and after operations, pioneered in osteoplastic amputation above the knee, and was an early exponent of fresh-air therapy for tuberculosis. Aikins' most significant clinical contribution was unquestionably his early adoption and ardent advocacy of Jospeh Lister's antiseptic methods.
He was also an able administrator under whose direction the Toronto School of Medicine and the subsequent Faculty of Medicine acquired national reputations. Moreover, as a leading member of the Council of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, he helped raise the provincial standards for medical education.
Between the 1850s and the 1890s Aikins held a series of appointments as consultant to the Toronto General Hospital, the Hospital for Sick Children, and the Central Prison. He was physican to several local charities and was often called upon to give expert testimony at inquests and court proceedings. He received an L.L.D. from Victoria College in 1881 and from the University of Toronto in 1889. Ill health forced him to retire in 1895 from teaching and private practise. Aikins died in Toronto on 25 May 1897.
First Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto