Historical Research: 5 Tidbits about Educating Physicians
Diving into historical research about educating physicians in 1820…
I’ve just sent a manuscript off for editing! Now I’m trying to turn my attention to the next one on my list, a novella length story I’m hoping to release in late summer/early autumn.
In December, I finished an ugly first-draft of this story and it needs a great deal of fleshing-out. Unfortunately, the hero and heroine have not been cooperating much. Like me, they’re probably distracted by world events!
What’s a procrastinating writer to do, but fall down the rabbit hole of research?
The year is 1822, and my hero happens to be a recent graduate of the Edinburgh College of Medicine. So, without further ado, here are a few tidbits I’ve gleaned from an article in the archives of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh about educating physicians in my hero’s era:
One: Latin required!
Before conferring a degree, the Medical College required students to produce a thesis in Latin. Also, the university conducted their final examinations in Latin.
Two: An international student body
Edinburgh welcomed students from the United States and Canada, averaging 12 students a year from the U.S.
Three: Tuition costs
Students paid fees directly to lecturers. Fees varied from “£4-6 to £4-9”, which I believe is “four pounds, six shillings to four pounds, nine shillings.” (And if I’m wrong, please correct me in the comments!)
If you think that’s a bargain, keep in mind inflation. According to this fabulous inflation calculator, four pounds in 1800 equals 337 pounds in 2020!
On second thought, that IS a bargain compared to our current exorbitantly-priced universities!
Four: Course of Study
To qualify for the degree of doctor of medicine, students studied for four years in a variety of subjects including anatomy, physiology, botany, chemistry, theory of medicine, materia medica and pharmacy, midwifery, and surgery.
In educating physicians, Edinburgh offered five optional courses in clinical surgery, practical anatomy, military surgery, midwifery, and jurisprudence (which sounds like forensic pathology), and required students to take two of these.
While this seems to be conflicting information, I believe the difference might be the separation of the physician training from the clinical study. We are still in the era when Physicians are “gentlemen”, and Surgeons are engaged in “trade”. But, it seems the Edinburgh students had the opportunity to be well-grounded in surgery.
Five: More fees!
Students had pre-clinical and clinical courses of study. They visited the Royal Infirmary for clinical study, at a cost of £5-7, paid directly to professors. The fee covered “clinical lectures, attendance at operations and dissections, and other services.”
Bonus: Professors’ Pensions and other salary tidbits
In 1820, the Medical College paid the anatomy professor an annual salary of £50 (approximately £4216 in today’s money), and there were no pensions. Some professors received no salary, their earnings coming from student lecture fees. The Medical College “received its revenue from the matriculation and graduation fees.”
One professor opined that a glut of doctors in Scotland led many graduates to enlist in the army, where after service, they could retire on an annual pension of £100 and then go into private practice.
Of course, most of this won’t make it into the story, but it works really well with fleshing out back story! Stay tuned for more on this project later.
Meanwhile, if you’ve spotted errors or have any comments, please share!
Source: Edinburgh Medical College at the End of the Eighteenth Century
Images: Coffee cup is from getstencil.com, all others are from Wikimedia Commons