Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh

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Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
Royal College Physicians Edinburgh RCPE logo.png
Motto Non sinit esse feros
Established 1681
President Professor Derek Bell
Location Edinburgh, United Kingdom
55°57′18″N 3°11′47″W / 55.9550°N 3.1965°W / 55.9550; -3.1965Coordinates: 55°57′18″N 3°11′47″W / 55.9550°N 3.1965°W / 55.9550; -3.1965
Website Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
The façade of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 9 Queen Street, Edinburgh, Scotland

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) is a Medical Royal College in the United Kingdom that sets medical training standards for UK physicians.[1] It was established by Royal Charter in 1681.[2] While the RCPE is based in Edinburgh, it is not solely a Scottish professional body - more than half of its 12,000[3] Fellows, Members, Associates and Affiliates live and practice medicine outside Scotland, in 86 countries and covering 55 specialties.



The twenty-one founding Fellows of the College, (one of whom was Robert Sibbald, who also held the position of Geographer Royal and was co-founder of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh), were concerned not only with the advancement of medicine as a reputable science, but also with alleviating the miseries of Edinburgh's poor and needy.


The College published the first Scottish pharmacopoeia in 1699. This was medical guide for physicians and apothecaries which provided standardised recipes and methods of producing remedies which could be consulted by practitioners when prescribing treatment.[4]


The College founded the first public dispensary in Britain in the late seventeenth century, to provide free medical treatment and advice to those unable to afford to pay for their medical care. It was decided at the first meeting of the College in 1682 ‘that att the next meeting of the Colledge some persouns be appointed by the Colledge to be physitians for the poore’[5]


The College founded its own research laboratory in the 1880s. The laboratory was split into the areas of Bacteriological, Chemical, and Histological and Experimental and researchers came from a wide variety of institutions, and included veterinary pathologists, chemists and zoologists, as well as physicians.

The laboratory had two main functions, to carry out original research and to provide diagnoses on medical samples for practicing doctors. The number of specimens which were sent by practitioners during the laboratory's existence steadily rose, by 1948 reaching 30,909 samples in one year.

The laboratory was broad in its scope, and eventually drew workers from as far as Lithuania and Hong Kong, received specimens not just from Scotland and England, but from Kansas, Cairo, Legos and Teheran, and collaborated on projects with researchers in America, India and Australia.

They defined their medical remit in the broadest sense – one Superintendent emphasising ‘the rejection of the narrow and utilitarian aspect of research’. This enabled them to study areas including the workings of the stomach of the narwhal, botanical histology, salmon migration (on behalf of the Scottish Fisheries Board), and the nature of Malayan arrow poisons.

They carried out research into conditions and diseases such as leukemia, anaemia, nutrition, vaccines, haemophilia, foetal death, meningitis, cancer, deaf mutism, asthma, insanity, and pneumonia, and also some more unusual conditions such as a small outbreak of epidemic plague in Glasgow in 1900, and a case of leprosy in Edinburgh.[6]

Current activities[edit]

The Great Hall in the RCPE building
The New Library in the RCPE building

The College acts in an advisory capacity to government and other organisations on many aspects of health, welfare and medical education.

Following successful completion of the MRCP(UK) examination, doctors are eligible to become Members and, in time, Fellows of the College.

The College has influenced the development of medical schools in North America, Australasia, Asia and Africa.

There is a separate Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.


Old Town[edit]

Early College meetings reputedly took place in Fellow’s lodgings while attempts were made to find a suitable place for regular meetings. Early record meetings, however, do not record specific places of meeting. On April 27, 1698 the decision was made to buy a house, but attempts were unsuccessful. On June 29, 1705 it was recorded “that there are several reparations necessary to be made in the house lately purchased for the College place of meeting” which is the first mention of the College owning a meeting place in its own right. In 1711, the College acquired property on Fountain Close, on the Cowgate. The subsequent years witnessed attempts at building a new pavilion or hall, but all failed owing to insufficient funds. By the early second half of the eighteenth century, neighbours were aware of the dilapidated state of the College and the premises were sold. The College sought out temporary asylum. At this time, New Town was being built, and the College petitioned to move on to George Street.[7]:70–74

George Street[edit]

The College asked James Craig, whose simple grid layout had won the Edinburgh Council’s New Town planning competition, to build them a hall in George Street. Building on George Street began in 1775, but the hall was not fully completed until 1830.[7]:74 Unfortunately the great cost of the hall’s exterior exhausted the College’s finances leaving no money to finish the interior of a building. The College's debt was so much that there was talk of selling the Hall before it was even occupied. The George Street premises were sold in 1843.[7]:78

9 Queen Street[edit]

The foundation stone of a new Hall at 9 Queen Street was laid on August 8, 1844. The new Queen Street Hall was designed by Thomas Hamilton. By this point the College needed to expand to house its growing collection of books as well as the increased number of Fellows, owing to the reduction of the entry fee.[8] The Queen Street Hall was completed in 1846.

8, 10, 11 and 12 Queen Street[edit]

In 1868 the College purchased the adjacent building at 8 Queen Street, which had been built by the renowned and influential Edinburgh architect Robert Adam between 1770 and 1771 and was the first house to be erected on Queen Street.[7]:73–74

In the 20th century Numbers 11 and 12 were purchased. The space behind 11 was used for the Conference Centre and 12 contains flexible meeting rooms and office space.

Physicians' Hall[edit]

The Physicians Hall, as the conjoined buildings are now collectively known, is a superb example of eighteenth century architecture; both the exterior and interior are extremely well preserved despite modernization.[9]


Depiction of the College from Historical Sketches and Laws of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from its Institution to 1891

The Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (JRCPE) is a peer reviewed medical journal published quarterly by the College.

See also[edit]

List of Presidents of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ JRCPTB
  2. ^ RCPE Royal Charter
  3. ^ RCPE - representing our members
  4. ^ "A Manual for Medicine: The Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia | Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh". Retrieved 2016-03-31. 
  5. ^ "Medical treatment for the poor: The Dispensary". Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Retrieved 31 March 2016. 
  6. ^ "The College laboratory: research and diagnosis". Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Retrieved 31 March 2016. 
  7. ^ a b c d Craig, W. S. (1976). History of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Oxford: Blackwell. 
  8. ^ Craig, W. S. (1976). History of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 79
  9. ^ Royal Commission of Ancient and Historic Monuments Scotland, Canmore Site Records ( 9 Queen Street; 8 Queen Street.

External links[edit]