About this event

  • Date and time Wed 26 May 2021 from 5:30pm to 7:40pm
  • Location Online
  • Organised by History of Medicine Society

These two structured talks and the following discussion session, on the development of a physiological understanding of extreme climates and the concomitant development of medical provisions and services for explorers are in the Society’s best tradition.

Our key speakers Dr Vanessa Heggie, University Research Fellow of the University of Birmingham will be giving a talk on 'Exploration physiology: A history of polar, desert, and altitude science' and Professor Tilli Tansey, Emeritus Professor of Medical History and Pharmacology will be giving the 'Presidential address 2020-2021 - Medicines for explorers: Henry Wellcome’s medicine chests'.

Both speakers are internationally renowned medical historians and will emphasise the importance of considering present knowledge and practice within a broader historical framework, and underline that the past informs the present and the future.

During this webinar, you'll be able to:

  • Know how medical and scientific research work, influenced by military concerns and the space race, increased understanding of survival in hot, cold and low-oxygen environments.
  • Learn how physiologists accompanied and studied polar explorers, desert nomads, and mountaineers
  • Document how a global network of pioneers changed knowledge about the human body, and human history.
  • Understand the nature of pharmacological provision for explorers from the late C19th to the mid C20th
  • Recognise the pivotal role of Henry Wellcome and Burroughs, Wellcome & Co in developing tropical medicines and research facilities

A CPD certificate with 2 CPD credits will be issued to those joining the webinar live as well as those who watch the recording afterwards. Certificates will be issued 7 days after the webinar to those who watch it live and after 30 days for those that watch the recording.

The History of Medicine Society was founded in 1912 by Sir William Osler, its first President. These talks continue to reveal the importance of learning from the lessons of the past to apply to the present and future. The Society reaches out, inter alia, to clinicians of every speciality (including students), medical scientists, health care professionals, and other interested professionals and members of the general public (e.g. journalists and teachers).

Please note, the AGM meeting for RSM members only will start at 5:30pm and the webinar will start at 6:00pm. All delegates will be able to join both sessions via one Zoom link.

Registration for this webinar will close 2 hours prior to the start time. You will receive the webinar link 2 hours before the meeting. Late registrations will not be accepted.

This webinar is available for on-demand viewing. The webinar recording will be available for registered delegates up to 30 days after the live webinar broadcast via Zoom. The link will be sent 24 hours after the webinar takes place.  

Join in the conversation online using #RSMLive 
Follow us on Twitter: @RoySocMed 

Key speakers

Professor Tilli Tansey

Emeritus Professor of Medical History and Pharmacology, William Harvey Research Institute, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London

Speaker's biography

Professor Tansey is Emeritus Professor of History of Medicine and Pharmacology at the William Harvey Research Institute of Barts & The London School of Medicine, and Honorary Professor in Neuroscience of Physiology and Pharmacology at UCL. With a PhD in neuroscience she worked for some years in medical research, before taking a second PhD in medical history. She was appointed to the academic staff of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in 1990 specialising in the history of modern medical sciences, especially physiology and pharmacology, and developing the famous ‘Witness Seminar’ approach to modern medicine, of which she co-edited over 70 volumes.


She was awarded an OBE in January 2015 ‘for services to research in the medical sciences and to the public understanding of science’. She is, inter alia, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and an Honorary Fellow of the RSM.

Dr Vanessa Heggie

University Research Fellow, University of Birmingham

Speaker's biography

Dr Heggie is an internationally respected medical historian and a Senior Lecturer in the History of Medicine and Science at the University of Birmingham. She initially studied Genetics as an undergraduate before switching to an MSc and PhD in the history and philosophy of science and has worked at the University of Manchester and the University of Cambridge as well as holding a Visiting Fellowship at the University of Sydney.


Her research interests lie in the history of medicine and the biomedical sciences in the 19th and 20th centuries, spanning a broad range of topics from nutrition and nursing to exercise and eugenics. Her first book Manchester University Press, 2011, was A History of British Sports Medicine, and her second book Chicago University Press, 2019 was Higher and Colder: A History of Extreme Physiology and Exploration. She has also written for public audiences, including a long running blog (2012-17) for the Guardian’s science section.


View programme

NOTE: (please login at the appropriate time)

5:30 pm - Annual general meeting (section members only)

6:00 pm - Medicine at extremes: 2020 - 2021 Presidential address

History of Medicine annual general meeting

(section members only)

Medicine at extremes 

Introduction by the President 

Professor Tilli Tansey, President, History of Medicine Society, Royal Society of Medicine

Exploration physiology: A history of polar, desert, and altitude science

Dr Vanessa Heggie, University Research Fellow, University of Birmingham

Presidential address 2020-2021 - Medicines for explorers: Henry Wellcome’s medicine chests 

Professor Tilli Tansey, Emeritus Professor of Medical History and Pharmacology, William Harvey Research Institute, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London

Panel discussion
Close of meeting 



Disclaimer: All views expressed in this webinar are of the speakers themselves and not of the RSM nor the speaker's organisations. 

Special rates for difficult times 

The RSM wishes to offer healthcare professionals continued learning opportunities during the coronavirus pandemic. The RSM’s weekly COVID-19 Series webinars remain free of charge, while there will be small charges to register for other online education. These fees will enable the RSM to continue its programme of activities and will apply during the course of the pandemic. 

Man searching computer

Join the RSM and get free access to digital learning resources

The RSM has an extensive digital learning and online e-resources platform. As a member you'll enjoy free access to a wealth of online  resources, including 5,000 subscription and open access e-journals, 2,000 e-books and 5 key medical databases, to support your clinical decision-making and research.

Become a member