University of Edinburgh Medical School

University of Edinburgh Medical School
TypeMedical school
Head of SchoolMoira Whyte
Administrative staff
1244 (2007/8; includes support staff)
Students2,218 (2007/8)
Undergraduates1,328 (2007/8)
Postgraduates890 (2007/8)
CampusThe Medical School, Teviot Place
Chancellor's Building, RIE
Western General Hospital
Royal Hospital for Sick Children
ColoursDark red, light red and pale yellow (or "liver, blood and pus")

The University of Edinburgh Medical School (also known as Edinburgh Medical School) is the medical school of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and part of the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, the head of which is Sir John Savill. Moira Whyte has been head of the school since 2016.[1] It was established in 1726, during the Scottish Enlightenment, making it the oldest medical school in the United Kingdom and is one of the oldest medical schools in the English-speaking world.

The medical school continually ranks 1st in Scotland and in 2013 and 2014, it was ranked 3rd in the UK by the Guardian University Guide,[2] The Times Good University Guide.[3] and the Complete University Guide. It ranked 21st in the world by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013–14 and 22nd in the world by the QS World University Rankings 2014.[4] According to a Healthcare Survey run by Saga in 2006, the medical school's main teaching hospital, the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, was considered the best hospital in Scotland.

The medical school's early focus on academic understanding puts its graduates amongst the top candidates in postgraduate qualification exams, and renders them very competitive applicants with regard to clinical posts.

As of 2017 the school accepts 184 medical students per year from the United Kingdom, 5 students from the European Union and an additional 14 students from elsewhere.[5] Admission is very competitive, with an acceptance rate of 11.5% for the 2012–13 admissions year.[6] The matriculation rate, the percentage of people who are accepted who choose to attend, is 71% for the 2012–13 admissions year.[7] The school requires the 3rd highest entry grades in the UK according to the Guardian University Guide 2014.[8]

The medical school is associated with 3 Nobel Prize winners; 2 winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and 1 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Graduates of the medical school have founded medical schools and universities all over the world including 5 out of the 7 Ivy League medical schools (Pennsylvania, Yale, Columbia, Harvard and Dartmouth), University of Sydney, Sydney Medical School, University of Melbourne Medical School, McGill University Faculty of Medicine, University of Vermont College of Medicine, Université de Montréal Faculty of Medicine, the Royal Postgraduate Medical School (now part of Imperial College School of Medicine), the University of Cape Town Medical School, Birkbeck, University of London, the Middlesex Hospital Medical School and the London School of Medicine for Women (both now part of UCL Medical School).


Bust of Alexander Monro in Edinburgh's Old College

Although the University of Edinburgh's Faculty of Medicine was not formally organised until 1726, medicine had been taught at Edinburgh since the beginning of the sixteenth century. Its formation was dependent on the incorporation of the Surgeons and Barber Surgeons, in 1505 and the foundation of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1681.

The University was modelled on the University of Bologna, but medical teaching was based on that of the sixteenth century University of Padua, and later on the University of Leiden (where most of the founding faculty had studied) in an attempt to attract foreign students, and maintain potential Scottish students in Scotland.

Since the Renaissance the primary facet of medical teaching here was anatomy and, therefore, Alexander Monro primus was appointed Professor of Anatomy in 1720. Later his son and grandson (both of the same name) would hold the position, establishing a reign of Professor Alexander Monros lasting 128 years. In subsequent years four further chairs completed the faculty allowing it to grant the qualification of Doctor of Medicine (MD) without the assistance of the Royal College of Physicians.

Success in the teaching of medicine and surgery through the eighteenth century was achieved thanks to the first teaching hospital, town physicians and the town guild of Barber Surgeons (later to become the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh). By 1764 the number of medical students was so great that a new 200-seat Anatomy Theatre was built in the College Garden. Throughout the 18th century until the First World War the Edinburgh Medical School was widely considered the best medical school in the English speaking world.[9] Students were attracted to the Edinburgh Medical School from Ireland, America and the Colonies by a succession of brilliant teachers, such as William Cullen, James Gregory and Joseph Black, the opportunities afforded by the Royal Medical Society and a flourishing Extra-Mural School.

The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh

Plaque on the site of the first Royal Infirmary

The first voluntary hospital to be established in Scotland was the Edinburgh Infirmary for the Sick Poor, which was established both for charitable and teaching purposes. The project was led by Alexander Monro, supported by influential Edinburgh politician George Drummond who was keen to establish Edinburgh as a centre for medical excellence.[10] The Royal College of Physicians[10] conducted a fundraising appeal, attracting £2000 for the hospital by 1728.[10]

The Edinburgh Royal Infirmary began operating from a small house—leased from the University of Edinburgh[10]—which was located opposite the head of Robertson's Close, in today's Infirmary Street. Resident staff included a matron, one domestic servant, and volunteer physicians and surgeons who attended in fortnightly rotations.[10] Only four beds were available from 6 August 1729 and medical students' visits were limited to two tickets only per student (to prevent crowding).

Work began in 1738[10] with William Adam as architect and in 1741, shortly after the foundation of the college, a 228-bed purpose-built hospital opened on land in what would become Infirmary Street, near Surgeons' Hall in Edinburgh. In addition to medical and surgical wards this new hospital included cells for lunatic patients and surgical operation theatre seats for 200 students.[10]

Due to overcrowding throughout this High School Yards site, David Bryce was commissioned to design a new hospital – the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh on Lauriston Place close to the university and next door to where the medical school buildings would be built in 1880.

In 2003 a new 900-bed Royal Infirmary opened at Little France, in the south-east of the city, replacing the facility on Lauriston Place.

The Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh

Former site of the University's Botanic Garden at Shrubhill

The Edinburgh Botanic Garden was created in 1670 for study of medicinal plants by Dr Robert Sibbald (later first Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh University) and Dr Andrew Balfour. It gave a base for the development of study of Pharmacology (Materia Medica) and Chemistry. Originally at St Anne's Yards adjacent to Holyrood Palace, the garden measured a meagre 40 square feet (3.7 m2). It moved subsequently to the ground now occupied by Waverley station and in the 1760s was again relocated to Shrubhill between Edinburgh and Leith. It was not until after 1820 that the garden and its contents began the move to its present-day location in Inverleith ('The Inverleith Garden') by Robert Graham (appointed Regius Keeper, 1820–45). It is currently recognised as the second oldest botanic garden in Britain after Oxford (OBG founded in 1620).

The nineteenth century saw a growth of new sciences at Edinburgh, notably of Physiology and Pathology, and the development of Public Health and Psychiatry. Midwifery was finally admitted as an essential part of the compulsory medical curriculum.

Women and Medical School

In 1869 Sophia Jex-Blake was reluctantly accepted to attend a limited number of classes in the School of Medicine, enrolling Edinburgh in the heated international battle for women to enter medicine. Full equality between the sexes was not achieved at Edinburgh Medical School until 20 years later. British medical schools openly refused to accept women students at this time. Jex-Blake persuaded Edinburgh University to allow not only herself, but also her friend, Edith Pechy, to attend medical lectures.

The Medical School at Teviot Place

Edinburgh Medical School, Teviot Place
Arcade off the New Quad
Floor plan of the New Medical School in 1893

In the 1860s the medical school was constrained within the Old College and by 1880 the new Royal Infirmary had been built on Lauriston Place. The construction of new medical buildings began and they were completed by 1888, in Teviot Place, adjacent to the Royal Infirmary. Together they housed the Medical Faculty with proper facilities for teaching, scientific research and practical laboratories. This complex came to be known as the "New Quad," in contrast to the Old College (sometimes known as the "Old Quad") and New College, which was not originally part of the university.

The competition to design the University's new buildings was won by the architect Sir Robert Rowand Anderson in 1877 (who later designed the dome of the Robert Adam/William Henry Playfair Old College building). After extensive European travel, he decided upon a 'Cinquecento' Italian Renaissance style which he judged "more suitable than Greek or Palladian, where the interior would have been constrained by the formal exterior, or mediaeval, which would have been out of keeping with the spirit of scientific medical enquiry".[citation needed] Initially the design incorporated a new University Graduation Hall, but as this was seen as too ambitious. A separate building was constructed for the purpose, the McEwan Hall, also designed by Anderson, after funds were made available by the brewer Sir William McEwan in 1894. The final grand structure took three years to decorate including elaborate ceiling murals and organ.

The Medical School was designed around two courts, with a grand public quadrangle at the front and, for discreet delivery of cadavers to the dissection rooms, a second private yard entered from the lane behind. The Professor of Anatomy, Sir William Turner (Professor 1867 to 1903, Principal 1903 to 1917) was placed in charge of the project leading to the construction of a three-storey galleried Anatomy Museum with displays of everything from whales to apes as well as human anatomy, an associated library and a whole series of dissecting rooms, laboratories, and a grand anatomy lecture theatre (based on that at Padua) with steeply raked benches rising above the central dissecting table. The Anatomy Museum has since been plastered and its remnants are now a student study space, off-limits to the general public, although the grand elephant skeletons that were once the hallmark of the museums entrance still remain in the east wing.

Today the medical buildings at Teviot Place focus on the teaching of pre-clinical subjects such as biochemistry and anatomy. The building still holds the anatomy teaching laboratory (although prosection has replaced dissection) and anatomy resource centre (a scaled down version of the anatomy museum) and the original lecture theatre. The building also hosts the Biomedical Teaching Organisation, where subjects allied to medicine (such as physiology and forensic science) are taught to senior biology students and to medical students taking intercalated degrees.

There are also currently plans to hand the West Wing of the medical school to the History Department of Edinburgh University, as the previous occupants (the Department of Medical Microbiology) have moved to the new campus at Little France.

Department of General Practice

In the 1950s the University's general practice teaching unit was developed.[11] It became the world's first independent department of General Practice.[12]

The Medical School at Little France

Chancellor's Building, Little France

The Chancellor's Building was opened on 12 August 2002 by The Duke of Edinburgh and houses the new £40 million Medical School at the New Royal Infirmary in Little France. It was a joint project between private finance, the local authorities and the University to create a large modern hospital, veterinary clinic and research institute and thus the University is currently (2003) in the process of moving its Veterinary and Medical Faculties there (and quite possibly also the School of Nursing). It has two large lecture theatres and a medical library. It is connected to the new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary by a series of corridors.

The Polish School of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh

Polish School of Medicine plaque

The Polish School of Medicine was established in 1941 as "a wartime testament to this spirit of enlightenment". Students were to be those drawn from the Polish army to Britain and were taught in Polish. Classes in pre-clinical subjects were held at the Medical School. Clinical teaching was carried out mainly at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in Lauriston Place. Former nurses' quarters in the grounds of the Western General were designated The Paderewski Hospital and used to provide care for members of the Polish armed forces and Polish civilians.[13]

The project was initiated by Lt. Col. Professor Francis Crew, then commanding officer at the Military Hospital in Edinburgh Castle, and Lt. Col. Dr Antoni Jurasz, the school's organiser and first dean.

The school was closed in September 1950. 336 students matriculated, of which 227 students graduated with the equivalent of an MBChB. A total of 19 doctors obtained a doctorate or MD. A bronze plaque commemorating the existence of the Polish School of Medicine is located in the Quadrangle of the Medical School in Teviot Place.[13]