Medicine at the University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh was founded in 1583 by the Town Council of Edinburgh as the first civic university in Britain.
Although the Medical School can trace its origins back to the barber surgeons of Edinburgh in the early part of the 16th century, the Faculty of Medicine did not gain formal recognition within the University until 1726.
Edinburgh’s Faculty of Medicine was founded on the models established at the University of Padua in the 16th century and at Leiden in the 17th.
It was in part a deliberate policy to boost the economy of the city by attracting foreign students to study in Scotland rather than send young Scots at great expense to the Continent.
The 18th century
By the middle of the century, the success of the school came from teaching both medicine and surgery in a university setting, but with a clinical base in a teaching hospital.
The establishment of the Medical Faculty was soon followed by the founding of a public hospital, originally in temporary accommodation in 1729, but after 1741 in the purpose-built Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.
The physicians had already established a botanic garden for the study of medicinal plants and this gave the base for the development of studies in Materia Medica (pharmacology) and chemistry.
By 1764, the numbers of medical students were so great that a new 200-seat anatomy theatre was built in the College Garden.
Edinburgh’s fame was enhanced later by a succession of brilliant teachers, such as William Cullen, James Gregory and Joseph Black (discoverer of carbon dioxide and of latent heat).
The School attracted many students from Ireland, America and the Colonies, and Edinburgh graduates were closely involved in the founding of several of the first medical schools in the US and Canada.
The 19th century
The Edinburgh Medical School retained its place as one of the most prestigious in the world during the 19th century.
Midwifery was finally admitted as an essential part of the compulsory medical curriculum. James Young Simpson revolutionised obstetric and surgical practice with the introduction of chloroform anaesthesia in 1847.
There were enormous advances in surgery, under great names such as Robert Liston, James Syme and Joseph Lister, particularly with Lister’s introduction of antiseptic and aseptic techniques in the 1870s.
Edinburgh also played a part in the battle for admission of women into medicine with the reluctant acceptance of Sophia Jex Blake to some classes in 1869, though the eventual concession of full equality with men was not achieved till 1889.
By the 1860s, the development of Edinburgh medicine was constrained by its existing premises, with the Royal Infirmary in ageing buildings around Infirmary Street and the Medical Faculty still squeezed into the University quadrangle on South Bridge (now known as Old College).
A fine new building at Lauriston Place was finished in 1880. New premises were also required for the Medical Faculty as modern teaching demanded proper facilities for scientific research and practical laboratories. A site was selected just across from the new Royal Infirmary and a new Medical School was opened in 1884.
The College today: UK and world ranking
The Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2022 results reaffirmed Edinburgh’s position as one of the UK’s leading research universities. The University of Edinburgh is fourth in the UK based on the quality and breadth of its research - known as research power - and is Scotland’s top ranked institution, according to Times Higher Education's REF power ratings.
Our strategy is delivered by the UK’s only unified College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, and our research is consolidated in multidisciplinary research centres. These centres are clustered within contemporary research Institutes located next to hospitals on three major translational research campuses, linking with research excellence in the other Colleges.