The teaching of medicine at the University of Cambridge dates back to 1540 when Henry VIII endowed the University’s first Professorship of Physic, Dr John Blyth.
However for more than 300 years, successive incumbents of the Regius Chair appeared to look upon their positions as a means to an end, enabling them to do their own work without the inconvenience of having to teach students. Between the appointment of Dr Blyth in 1540 until the middle of the 19th century, only one or two medical students were registered each year, with the average number of undergraduates taking the medical course never totalling more than four.
Although anatomy had been taught since the early 18th century, with pathology and physiology following in the 19th century, it was not until the appointment of Dr John Haviland, the Regius Professor of Physic, 1817-1851, that the formal teaching of undergraduates was given consideration.
In 1829, the University Senate agreed to the introduction of a more comprehensive medical curriculum and examinations. In 1842, George Paget, the famous physician, into his third year at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, pioneered bedside examinations. These were the first ever to be carried out in UK hospitals and became an integral part of the Bachelor of Medicine finals. The following year, a system of weekly lectures was adopted and by 1860 the number of students had moved into double figures.
In 1842, Paget was joined by the 22 year old surgeon, George Murray Humphry, and the two helped put medical education in Cambridge on a proper footing and the School gained a reputation as one of the foremost outside London. However, a number of disputes led to a cooling in relations between the University and Addenbrooke’s and, much of the momentum created by Paget and Haviland, was lost, with the London medical schools retaining their pre-eminence.
The new Addenbrooke’s Hospital was opened on its present Hills Road site by the Queen in 1962. The building of stage two, the biggest hospital contract in the UK at the time, was completed in 1972.
Students from Cambridge University can enter the clinical school on completion of three years of pre-clinical training and a further interviewing process. Applicants from outside Cambridge University are also invited to apply providing they meet the entry requirements. Approximately half the medical students used to leave Cambridge after their pre-clinical studies as there were not enough places on the clinical course for them all; from 2017 onwards, all Cambridge medical students will continue to study in Cambridge for the full six years. Common destinations include the Oxford, London and Manchester medical schools.
Approximately half the clinical medical training in Cambridge takes place at the School of Clinical Medicine located on the Addenbrooke’s Hospital site. The Clinical School was established in 1976 when construction of the new Addenbrooke’s building was underway. The opening of the Clinical School meant the beginning of a completely new medical course at Cambridge University. The clinical course was restructured in 2005 with the addition of a new final year, as the clinical course had previously been less than three years in length.
As of 2008 the medical school accepts some 260 British medical students each year and an additional 21 candidates from overseas. The clinical school accepts some 145 students.
The Department of Medicine provides high quality research, teaching and patient care. It is the largest department in the School of Clinical Medicine, and is comprised of 12 divisions, each aligned to a clinical specialty within the NHS. It houses 25 professors, and over 700 directly employed and affiliated members of staff and students. The Department’s base is over 5 floors in the main building of Addenbrooke’s Hospital, and in other sites around the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, including the Cambridge Institute of Medical Research, CRUK Cancer Research Institute, West Forvie site, GSK building, Institute of Metabolic Science, Clifford Allbutt Building and the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology University Research Unit.