A brief history of the BC Medical Journal

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 50, No. 3, April 2008, Page 160 News&Notes
By: Tara Lyon

While today’s BCMJ looks radically different from its earlier incarnation of 50 years ago and is produced on a fully electronic workflow, if you look below the surface you find that the journal’s goals, editorial oversight, and staffing remain essentially unchanged.

First published in 1959, the Bri­tish Columbia Medical Jour­nal has entered its 50th year of publication. Throughout its half-century of existence, the journal has chronicled the evolution of the medical profession and documented amazing advances in medical science. Through editorial continuity over the years, the journal has maintained its scientific relevance, upheld a high standard of publishing excellence, and preserved an objective that existed at its inception: “...to strengthen the ideals of unity and organization among members of the profession.”

The history of the BCMJ stretches back much further than the half-century it has spent in its current incarnation. The roots of the journal originate with the Vancouver Medical Association Bulletin, which began publishing in October 1924. In its 34 years of publication, the circulation of the Bulletin grew from approximately 700 to 2680, with subscribers in the UK, India, and South America, in addition to Canada and the US. 

In 1957, as advertising revenues dropped, the Bulletin ceased to be profitable for the VMA, and a committee was formed of representatives from the VMA, the BCMA, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC to discuss the future of the publication. The committee decided to rename the publication the British Columbia Medical Journal, and an agreement was struck wherein the VMA would own the publication, the editor would receive a salary, and the BCMA would pay for space within its pages.

The first issue of the BC Medical Journal was published in January 1959, and although the publication has flourished over time, the original arrangement ultimately did not work out. Over the next few years advertising revenues continued to drop, and in January 1963 the BC Medical Association, anxious to have its own publication, took ownership of the journal. 

The ownership and management of the journal by the BC Medical Association brought about many changes to the image of the publication. After four decades of small-page publication, in January 1968 the journal switched to a full-size format with standard page measures. In 1973 the journal adopted a new format, casting off the formal image of previous decades and displaying a new look and logo.

The journal’s current cover artist, Jerry Wong, came on board the BCMJ in 1982. Jerry began his tenure with the publication with a bang, winning two awards for his direction of the photography of his first cover in March of that year. The photo, depicting a metronome used to illustrate a heartbeat, won the Jan de Haas memorial trophy for best creative and general interest color photograph, and an honorable mention for best commercial illustrative photograph from the Professional Photographers’ Association of British Columbia.

The cover was the first of hundreds of creative designs that have graced the journal in the past 26 years, and while the BCMJ switched to a new logo and page design in 2001—also created by Jerry Wong—the unique artistic tone and image of the publication has remained consistent over the past quarter century.

Throughout all the changes brought about over the course of time, the journal has seen surprisingly little change in its editorial leadership. In 88 years of publication, from its inception in 1924 as the VMA Bulletin, the journal has had only six editors. The position has consistently attracted individuals who have displayed a remarkable level of commitment to the publication and who, in some cases, maintained truly impressive tenures.

Founding editor Dr J.M. Pearson helmed the VMA Bulletin from 1924 to 1932, when Dr Jack MacDermot took over the position. Dr MacDermot, who would spend an astounding 34 years as editor, oversaw the transition from the Bulletin to the BC Medical Journal in 1959, and stayed with the journal for nine more years before handing over the reins to Dr Sid Hobbs in 1968. Dr Hobbs supervised the publication for a decade and was succeeded in 1978 by Dr A.F. Hardyment, who after eight years as editor was followed by Dr W.A. Dodd in 1986. Dr Dodd spent seven years in the position, after which Dr Jim Wilson took over the job in December of 1993. With 14 years under his belt, Dr Wilson holds the second-longest tenure as editor of the BCMJ.

Other aspects of the journal have also remained the same despite (or perhaps thanks to) all the technological advances in the publishing industry in the past half century. When the first edition of the journal was published in 1959, the Editorial Board had seven members—the same as today. Although circulation has increased from 2680 to approximately 11000, the number of BCMA staff dedicated to the production of the journal has increased by only one person, for a total of three full-time employees (the editor’s job is part-time). The cost of each issue to members, which fluctuates according to advertising revenues, has actually crept down over the past 20 years, from $2 per issue in 1985, to an average of $1.10 per issue in 2007.

It seems an old adage can be ap­plied to the BCMJ story in its entirety: the more things change, the more things stay the same. A half century of editorial and publishing excellence has firmly established the journal as a scientifically credible publication proven to be relevant to its readership. The British Columbia Medical Journal remains committed to the objectives stated so many years ago for the VMA Bulletin (1924): “to strive to strengthen the ideals of unity and organization within the BCMA membership” as well as to “build a good and useful medical journal” (1959).

—Tara Lyon
BCMJ Editorial Assistant

Tara Lyon. A brief history of the BC Medical Journal. BCMJ, Vol. 50, No. 3, April, 2008, Page(s) 160 - News&Notes.

Above is the information needed to cite this article in your paper or presentation. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recommends the following citation style, which is the now nearly universally accepted citation style for scientific papers:
Halpern SD, Ubel PA, Caplan AL, Marion DW, Palmer AM, Schiding JK, et al. Solid-organ transplantation in HIV-infected patients. N Engl J Med. 2002;347:284-7.

About the ICMJE and citation styles

The ICMJE is small group of editors of general medical journals who first met informally in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1978 to establish guidelines for the format of manuscripts submitted to their journals. The group became known as the Vancouver Group. Its requirements for manuscripts, including formats for bibliographic references developed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), were first published in 1979. The Vancouver Group expanded and evolved into the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), which meets annually. The ICMJE created the Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals to help authors and editors create and distribute accurate, clear, easily accessible reports of biomedical studies.

An alternate version of ICMJE style is to additionally list the month an issue number, but since most journals use continuous pagination, the shorter form provides sufficient information to locate the reference. The NLM now lists all authors.

BCMJ standard citation style is a slight modification of the ICMJE/NLM style, as follows:

  • Only the first three authors are listed, followed by "et al."
  • There is no period after the journal name.
  • Page numbers are not abbreviated.

For more information on the ICMJE Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals, visit www.icmje.org

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