History of Medicine

AMS Hannah Summer Studentship: The Use of Radioactive Iodine

AMS is best known for our flagship Program, The Phoenix Project, which focuses on bringing compassion to healthcare, but our healthcare roots run deep. AMS has been a steady supporter of the study of medical history for almost 80 years. One of the programs we are proud to support is the AMS Hannah Summer Studentship Awards, in partnership with The Canadian Society for the History of Medicine.

The Canadian Society for the History of Medicine, adjudicates applications for the AMS Hannah Summer Studentship Awards, which lay a foundation for graduate level study of the history of health and medicine both for medical and arts students. Three-month summer studentships in the amount of $5,500 are available to undergraduate students registered in a Canadian university for a closely supervised project in the history of medicine.

Meet Hannah Summer Student Hailey Pineau – University of Alberta

The focus of Hailey’s research was an experiment conducted by the U.S. Air Force in Alaska between 1955 and 1957, in which researchers investigated whether the thyroid gland may facilitate survival in sub-zero temperatures. As part of this experiment, scientists at the Arctic Aeromedical Laboratory (a division of the U.S. Air Force) administered tablets containing radioactive iodine-131 to 120 subjects, most of whom were Alaskan aboriginals. When this study was declassified in 1993 and subsequently investigated by the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, it became apparent that many of the aboriginal participants were unaware that they had been exposed to radiation. Moreover, several subjects did not recall having provided consent to participate in the experiment and instead believed they were receiving much-needed medical attention. Specifically, the goal of Hailey’s research was to elucidate the factors that led to this lack of communication. Hailey was interested in learning whether the scientists were intentionally deceitful in their conduct with the native subjects and also whether the experiment was motivated by underlying racial assumptions about the physiology of Alaskan natives. “Additionally, I hoped to understand the factors that may have led the aboriginal communities to cooperate with the U.S. Air Force.”

“I am incredibly grateful to AMS (Associated Medical Services) for the opportunity to have conducted this research! Not only did I learn a lot about the legacies of Cold War experimentation, but I also greatly refined my historical research and writing skills, which will undoubtedly help me in future history of medicine research.”

By investigating the U.S. Air Force’s thyroid function study, Hailey gained insight in the importance of clear communication and compassion when working with research participants and patients. “Because I hope to become a medical researcher or doctor someday, I know that these lessons that I learned through this research will be highly applicable in my future career.”

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