Edinburgh Medical School, College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh, UK

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 Whytehas been head of the school since 2016.  It was established in 1726, during the Scottish Enlightenment, and is one of the oldest medical schools in the English-speaking world.

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 2013 the school accepts 190 European Union medical students per year and an additional 17 students from outwith the EU. Admission is very competitive, with an acceptance rate of 11.5% for the 2012–13 admissions year. The matriculation rate, the percentage of people who are accepted who choose to attend, is 71% for the 2012–13 admissions year. The school requires the 3rd highest entry grades in the UK according to the Guardian University Guide 2014.

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.

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 Drummondwho was keen to establish Edinburgh as a centre for medical excellence. The Royal College of Physicians conducted a fundraising appeal, attracting £2000 for the hospital by 1728.

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 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”.

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.

In the 1950s the University’s general practice teaching unit was developed. It became the world’s first independent department of General Practice.

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.

Furthermore, it had a two-tiered education model which allowed a great number of students to matriculate, but allowed few to graduate. The requirements for an MD were very stringent. Students had to attend all lectures with the exception of midwifery (although it was strongly encouraged nonetheless), they had to study for at minimum 3 years, had to write a series of oral and written examinations in Latin and had to compose a Latin thesis and defend it before the whole faculty. Consequently, the majority of students attended Edinburgh with the intention of learning medicine for 1 year before leaving due to the costs of a degree and the fact that a MD degree was not required to practice medicine. Between 1765 and 1825, only 20% of Edinburgh students graduated with an MD.

Gaining admission to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh is highly competitive. In 2013, there were 2150 Home/EU applications for 190 Home/EU positions leading to an applicant to place ratio of 11 to 1. In addition, there were 715 overseas applications for 17 international spots, an applicant to place ratio of 42 to 1.

Additional requirements include the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) is a mandatory requirement for all students applying to study Medicine at Edinburgh and applicants are required to sit the test during the summer prior to application.

Most applicants including overseas applicants are not interviewed prior to admission.

The 5 year MBChB course can extend a pre-entry year for applicants without adequate subject choice but with the right qualifications who otherwise would be admitted on to the 5-year programme, or an extra ‘intercalated year’ between years 2 and 3 to gain a BSc or BMedSci in a separate scientific discipline.

Edinburgh University is a member of the Russell Group of universities, receiving a quanta of a third of British research funding. In the last UK-wide Research Assessment Exercise, three-quarters of the College’s research staff were in academic units rated 5 or 5 star (the maximum possible ratings). This was more noteworthy in view of the large size of the College’s research groupings. The College has average research income in excess of £45 million/annum, and the figure has been steadily increasing each year.

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