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About Galens Medical Society

A Brief History of Galens

Galens Medical Society was founded in 1914 by a group of medical students and faculty. Originally, the Society primarily functioned as an honorary society for student advocacy and sought to bridge the gap between medical students and faculty. Early accomplishments included the establishment of an honor system, the procurement of student lockers to prevent theft, and the formation of a student lounge.

Galens members thought it important to socialize outside of the classroom, and in 1918 they held the first "All-Medic Smoker" in the Michigan Union. The performance was enjoyed by students and faculty alike and featured a series of skits followed by refreshments and talks by professors. The "Smoker" moniker recalls those early performances when Galens men enjoyed the pleasures of tobacco along with their ribald humor. Additional social events included the fall student and faculty picnic and the year-end banquet, which became annual traditions.

In 1927 the organization's focus shifted to charitable work to benefit children. That year Galens members held the first "Tag Days" fundraiser and collected monetary donations from Ann Arbor residents and University students. Funds from that event approached $1,000 and paid for a Christmas party to benefit children hospitalized at the University Hospital. The remaining money helped establish the Galens Workshop the following spring, which was a place for hospitalized children to play, build, and receive an education. The Workshop still exists today and is operated by Mott Child and Family Life.

Galens' capacity for charitable endeavors and student advocacy was bolstered with the founding of the Galens News Stand on May 8, 1939 in the lobby of the University Hospital. The funds realized from the News Stand were used for a variety of projects: securing microscopes for student laboratories; providing free stationery, envelopes, books, movies, and entertainment for University Hospital patients; paying the salary for the hospital chaplain; resurfacing the Hospital tennis courts; providing funds for recreation for children in the Neuropsychiatric Institute; and many other projects benefiting patients and students alike. Additionally, Galens members used the funds to create scholarships and a loan fund for medical students.

In 1937 Galens members began a tradition of formally recognizing those faculty members that display commitment to and excellence in medical student teaching. That year Dr. F. C. Hodges was named the first "Knight of the Silver Shovel," and today Galens members continue to recognize excellent medical school faculty and resident physicians through the Silver Shovel, Elizabeth Crosby, and Bronze Beeper awards.

In 1964 Galens members ensured that hospitalized children would have a place to be more "kid" than patient when they provided the funds to build the 8th floor of the current C. S. Mott Hospital. With the 8th floor, Galens provided a space to house the Workshop, created a student lounge (currently the pediatric resident lounge), and provided a chapel for patient and family use. In 1968, Galens pledged $80,000 to Mott Hospital for the creation of the Galens Intensive Care Unit for Children, and repeated this effort in the early 1980s when it donated money to create a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. Most recently in 2006, Galens members approved a $200,000 donation to help construct Mott Child and Family Life playrooms at the new Mott Hospital to once again ensure that hospitalized children will have a place to be more "kid" than patient.

Today Galens Medical Society is comprised of about 120 medical students and 13 faculty honoraries making it the largest and most diverse service and social organization at the Medical School. The organization raises approximately $65,000 in its annual Tag Days fundraiser and distributes this money to organizations within Mott hospital and charities that benefit the children of Washtenaw County. Galens members take an active role in volunteerism and interact socially with faculty through activities such as the Smoker, fall and spring picnics, and the year-end banquet. The Galens loan fund helps defray the cost of residency interviewing at subsidized interest rates and students continue to recognize and award teaching and leadership excellence among Medical School faculty and physicians.

The traditions of community service, extracurricular socialization, faculty cooperation and recognition, and student advocacy have remained central objectives throughout the organization's long history. The success and duration of the organization is attributable not only to the commitment, passion, and charity of its students, but also to that of its alumni and honorary faculty members, who over the years have dutifully served as advisors, mentors, and advocates.

Compiled by: Gerald Kangelaris, M.D. 2006
President Emeritus of the Galens Medical Society

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  1. Who was Galen?
  2. How do I donate to Tag Days?
  3. What does the Galens Medical Society provide to the University of Michigan?

  1. Who was Galen?

    Galen (129-200? A.D.) was the most outstanding physician of antiquity after Hippocrates. His anatomical studies on animals and observations of human physiology dominated medical theory and practice throughout Europe and the Islamic world for 1400 years.

    Galen was born of Greek parents in Pergamum, Asia Minor (modern day Bergama, Turkey), which was then part of the Roman Empire. A shrine to the healing god Asclepius was located in Pergamum, and there young Galen began his medical training by observing the treatment of the ill and wounded.

    His formal medical training began in 145 and lasted approximately 12 years. During this time, Galen traveled widely and studied medicine in Smyrna, Corinth, and Alexandria. When he returned to Pergamum in 157, he worked as a physician in a gladiator school and gained experience in trauma and wound treatment. He later regarded wounds as "windows into the body".

    In about 161 he settled in Rome, where he became renowned for his skill as a physician, his animal dissections, and his public lectures. In 169, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius appointed Galen court physician as well as personal physician to his son Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus. Most of Galen's later life was probably spent in Rome.

    Galen's works fall into three main categories: medical, philosophical, and philological, which are intimately intertwined. Many of his medical achievements came from his physiological and anatomical experimentation with live animals. One of his famous experiments involved the public dissection of a living pig where he cut its nerve bundles one at a time. He demonstrated that cutting the recurrent laryngeal nerve, now also known as Galen's Nerve, caused the pig stopped squealing. He also demonstrated reproducible muscular paralysis by severing specific spinal nerves. To study the function of the kidneys in producing urine, he occluded the ureters and observed renal swelling. Public animal dissection was central to Roman academic medical learning and considered a highly valuable method of testing medical theories. Medical students and teachers would attend these public gatherings, which frequently turned into debates.

    Although he was not Christian, Galen's writings reflect a belief in a single Creator, and he declared that the body was an instrument of the soul. These beliefs made him acceptable to Christian, Muslim, and Hebrew scholars, and allowed his methods of Hippocratic medicine to dominate until the Renaissance when Vesalius, the sixteenth century anatomist, begin to dispel his authority.

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  2. How do I donate to Tag Days?

    Please visit the Tag Days page.

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  3. What does the Galens Medical Society provide to the University of Michigan?
    Galens Medical Society and its alumni have provided a sum of money available for loan to defray costs related to residency interviewing. All fourth-year medical students are eligible to borrow a maximum of $2,000.00 at 0% interest until one month after graduation then 5% simple interest. Loans are made through the University of Michigan Medical School Financial Aid Office.
    For more information on the Galens Loan Fund and the application process, please visit the Medical School Office of Financial Aid website.
    Beyond Tag Days, Galens members volunteer their time to help local organizations. Recently, Galens members have volunteered at events like the Big House Big Heart Run and baked cookies for families at the Ronald McDonald House. Members have helped with providing winter clothing for 31 Washtenaw County families through Warm the Children and working with Girls on the Run.
    Galens strives to provide students from all four medical school classes the opportunity to socialize, form friendships, and escape the rigors of medical school life. Galens hosts numerous social events throughout the year including the annual fall picnic, bar nights, and the end-of-the-year Prefect Picnic, which is hosted by a second-year honorary. Additionally, every spring Galens members and our faculty honoraries dress to the nines for a night of good food and celebration at the annual banquet. The banquet is a time to enjoy good food and the company of friends, and to look back on the year's accomplishments. At each year's banquet, the Tag Days czars announce the amount of money raised that year for the children of Washtenaw County, and awards are given to those members who have gone above and beyond in the name of community service.
    The Galens Smoker is an annual musical parody of life at the Mecca and hands-down the most fun to be had at the University of Michigan Medical School. Written, directed, produced, and performed by medical students, the Smoker delights, amuses, impresses, and disgusts through its humorous and juvenile perspective on Michigan Medical School medical education, its gunner students, and beloved faculty. Although humorous in nature, the purpose of the Smoker has been and continues to be the encouragement of cooperation and understanding between faculty and students. With the historic Lydia Mendelssohn theater as its venue and the superb talents of its writers, cast, and crew, the Smoker is always much anticipated by the entire University of Michigan medical community.
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