Skip to Main Content

Medical Education on Film

A guide to the educational and archival films (1928-1963) of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

About this Guide

Use this guide to learn about Galter Library's collection of historical films and their creators, and to find primary and secondary resources related to medical motion pictures.

Introduction to the Project

In April 2021, Galter Health Sciences Library & Learning Center was awarded a CLIR Recordings at Risk grant to digitize and make available its 16mm medical education film collection. Films were cleaned and stabilized before digitization, which yielded three tiers of file formats: preservation, production, and access, with descriptive and technical metadata files that accompanied each item. A team of Galter Library staff viewed all the films, wrote summaries, and created unique item records for every film. You can find these in our archival finding aids, along with more information about the collection. Due to the medical nature of the collection, each film has been reviewed with the following in mind: privacy concerns and potentially unethical or disturbing content. Films that include one or more of the concerns have been assigned access and use restrictions, though the descriptions will always be freely accessible.

Unrestricted films will be made accessible online as part of The Medical Heritage Library.

Research Opportunities

Digitizing these films has revealed a hidden collection of primary sources for research and teaching in a range of areas, including the history of science and medicine, medical education, and film studies. This once-hidden collection is distinctly important because it is all that remains of a significant educational venture at a major medical school. The inclusion of film in standardized medical education gained momentum in the postwar United States, and subsequently influenced thousands of physicians at medical schools around the country. The influence of these films extends beyond just Northwestern University and the Chicago region; these films were rented and shipped cross-country, as evidenced by entries in film library catalogs and film reviews in prominent journals. By preserving the films that instructed thousands of physicians, we can better understand their research, academic careers, and viewpoints, and how those compare to other generations.

The opportunity to study how film has influenced medical students and medical education extends beyond a historical survey of past practices. Today’s medical education landscape includes many virtual spaces, such as 3D anatomy computer programs, simulation labs, not to mention the virtual classrooms and telemedicine necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic. This collection offers scholars a primary resource for learning medicine in a virtual space—film—and how that compares to the virtual experience of students today.


This project was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This project was also supported by a generous donation from Roderick McNealy, son of Raymond McNealy, MD.

CLIR is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning. To learn more, visit the CLIR website and follow CLIR on Facebook and Twitter.