The Polish School of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh was established in March 1941. Initially the idea was to meet the needs of the Polish Armed Forces for doctors but from the outstart, civilian students were admitted. Founded on the basis of an agreement between the Polish Government in Exile and the Senate of The University of Edinburgh this unique wartime initiative enabled students to complete their medical degrees.
The academic staff were mainly Polish professors and academic staff who became refugees after the Invasion of Poland and the Fall of France (in June 1940). They were supported by the Edinburgh University professors.
Professor Antoni Jurasz was the first dean of the Polish School of Medicine. Students were initially taught in Edinburgh Hospitals until October 1941 when, thanks to the generosity of the Edinburgh Council, the Ignacy Jan Paderewski Polish hospital was established. Most of the courses were taught in Polish, followed the Polish curriculum and students were awarded a Polish Degree.
By the time the school closed in 1949, over 336 students had matriculated. 227 had graduated with a medical diploma (MBChB) and 19 doctors (including 12 who had already graduated from the School with the diploma) obtained a doctorate or MD.
After the war only a few graduates returned to Poland while most remained in Britain and some emigrated to the US, Canada and Australia. The Polish School of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh was the only legally operating Polish academic institution during World War II.
After the fall of Poland and subsequently of France, the Polish military forces were relocated to and reorganised in Great Britain. A key issue that emerged was obtaining a suitable number of doctors and pharmacists for the newly forming military units. There were many medical students who had their studies interrupted by the war among these soldiers and servicemen. Importantly there were also professors and academic staff who had taught at medical schools before the war. The initiator of the idea to establish an academic institution that would provide doctors for the polish armed forces was professor Francis Albert Crew who was in charge of the military hospital in Edinburgh. On the Polish side, great supporters of the initiative were Professor Antoni Jurasz (Professor of Surgery at Poznan University) and Professor Tadeusz Sokolowski.
The joint initiative was approved by the authorities of the University of Edinburgh and was subsequently endorsed by the Polish Government in Exile. Professor Antoni Jurasz was chosen to negotiate with the University of Edinburgh on behalf of the Polish government in exile. Simultaneously a committee was appointed to set up the Polish School of Medicine (PSM). Its members were: Professor Stanisław Kot, Professor Antoni Jurasz, Professor Jerzy Fergler, Professor Włodzimierz Koskowski, Professor Tadeusz Rogalski and Lt. Col. Władysław Gergovich MD representing the staff of the Commander in Chief of Polish Forces, General Wladyslaw Sikorski
Initially 70 students originating from the military corps and 20 civilians entered medical studies at the PSM. Polish nationals who were matriculated at the Polish School of Medicine (PSM) became full-time University of Edinburgh students and therefore enjoyed the same privileges as regular Edinburgh University students. Their studies, including the fee of £2.50, were funded by the Polish authorities. From the very beginning, thanks to the tireless efforts of the staff members, the courses at the PSM were very highly regarded by the University of Edinburgh authorities. Students attended seminars and lectures within the College of Medicine buildings at Bristo Street and clinical training took place at the Royal Infirmary, Royal Sick Children Hospital and the City Hospital. From October 1941 students were also taught in the Paderewski Hospital, located in the grounds of the Western General Hospital. Under Defence regulation 32B the General Medical Councilwas able to register doctors who had qualified in countries such as Poland temporarily. In 1941 such doctors could be placed on the Medical Register and in 1947 they were placed on the permanent register under the Medical Practitioner and Pharmacists Act of 1947. As the British authorities recognized the right of Polish Professors to work as doctors in the UK during the war, this allowed them to teach the students within Scottish wards. On a day-to-day basis Polish nationals encountered great support from the Scottish community. In December 1941 student accommodation for PSM students opened at Grosvenor Crescent, in the city centre.
While in the academic year 1944/45 the total number of students was 246 this fell to 209 (73 females and 136 males) in 1945/1946. In the following 3 years the academic initiative was wound down and then ceased altogether. In 1946 thirty-three 3rd year students were transferred to British universities. From then on, PSM had only 67 fourth and 78 fifth year students. The doors finally closed on 30 March 1949. During the 8 years of its activity 336 medical students were matriculated, 237 completed their studies, 227 were awarded a medical degree (MBChB) and 19 obtained a MD or PhD. A total of 49 student withdrew from the studies and 23 were expelled due to unsatisfactory progress. Doctors affiliated with the PSM published 121 scientific papers in medical journals. PSM’s library comprised 1076 volumes, which were transferred to the University of Warsaw Library and the Polish Library in London after the war.
In 1966 the graduates of the PSM held their first worldwide reunion.Since then they have held similar gatherings in Edinburgh every 5 years thus keeping the spirit of the school alive and maintaining their friendship and close links with The University of Edinburgh. During the 2016 anniversary celebrations the University of Edinburgh Chancellors presented honorary degrees to 3 individuals who have played a key role in keeping the spirit of the School alive and developing the academic links between Edinburgh University and Polish medical universities and research institutes. The School’s coordinator Dr Maria Dlugolecka-Graham, the President of Poznan University of Medical Sciences, Professor Jacek Wysocki and the Vice-Rektor of the Jagiellonian University, Professor Piotr Laidler were presented with this award.
In 1986 on the 45th anniversary of the founding of the Polish School the graduates set up the Polish School of Medicine Memorial Fund. An initiative that was intended to acknowledge the tremendous help the University had given to Poles during WWII and to foster links between the University of Edinburgh and Polish medical universities. Income from the Fund provides scholarships for talented Polish medical scientists working in Polish medical universities and research institutes to come to Edinburgh to undertake further study or research. Up to date over 80 Polish medical scientists have benefited from the scheme.