On the Passing of a Medical Education Pioneer: A Tribute to Dr. Sylvia Cruess

On September 8, our community lost a pioneer with the passing of Dr. Sylvia Cruess at the age of 92. An Officer of the Order of Canada, a Professor Emerita of Medicine and Health Sciences Education at McGill, the recipient of many awards and honours, and a role model for the ages, Dr. Sylvia Cruess will be missed by all who knew her. 

Dr. Cruess was an accomplished endocrinologist and administrator who served for a decade as the director of the Metabolic Day Centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital, where she encouraged a multidisciplinary approach that is favoured today. In 1978, her leadership skills led to her being tapped for the role of the hospital’s first medical director, a forerunner to the title of Director of Professional Services (DPS), which she held until 1995. She was also the first woman to be responsible for this important role in Quebec and possibly in Canada.  I have no doubt that she influenced many of her peers and younger women to reach for new heights. One has only to look back a little to see that since her tenure in that role, the MUHC has had three women DPSs, namely Drs. Françoise Chagnon, Ewa Sidorowicz and Claudine Lamarre. 

In addition, I would like to highlight Dr. Cruess’ contributions to medical education and research, in particular the seminal work she carried out with her partner in life, Dr. Richard Cruess, on professionalism and professional identity formation as well as medicine as a community of practice.  Their extensive publications led to invitations from around the world, the richly deserved Richard and Sylvia Cruess Chair in Medical Education and the founding of the Institute of Health Sciences Education at McGill.

I would also be remiss if I did not mention Dr. Cruess’ generous spirit. Always involved in the community and the institutions she loved, Dr. Cruess served as a co-chair of The Best Care for Life capital campaign, a partnership of all of the MUHC’s foundations to redevelop our institution and build the Glen site. Her engagement will always be remembered and appreciated. I am glad that the amphitheatre in the Research Institute of the MUHC bears her name and that of her husband, an equally exceptional individual who has made considerable contributions to clinical care, research, education and our institution’s success.

The McGill University Health Centre wishes to extend its deepest and heartfelt condolences to Dr. Richard Cruess and their sons, Leigh and Andrew, as well as to their spouses and children. The Cruess family and their circle of friends and colleagues have lost a beloved soul mate, mother, grandmother and friend; they are all in our thoughts.  What a blessing for us all that Drs. Sylvia and Richard Cruess left Columbia University in New York to intern at the Royal Victoria Hospital in 1955 to stay together and returned here for good in 1963.

A memorial service to celebrate her life will take place this fall and a memorial fund has been established through the MUHC Foundation. For information, click here:  https://muhcf.akaraisin.com/ui/giveinmemory/p/drsylviacruess 

Pierre Gfeller, MD, CM, MBA
President and Executive Director, MUHC