Royal College of Physicians

Coordinates: 51°31′33″N 00°08′42″W / 51.52583°N 0.14500°W / 51.52583; -0.14500
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Royal College of Physicians of London
Established1518; 506 years ago (1518)
TypeMedical royal college
HeadquartersRegent's Park, London, England
40,000 (May 2021)[1]
Sarah Clarke
AffiliationsAcademy of Medical Royal Colleges
414 (2019)[2] Edit this at Wikidata

The Royal College of Physicians of London, commonly referred to simply as the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) is a British professional membership body dedicated to improving the practice of medicine, chiefly through the accreditation of physicians by examination. Founded by royal charter from King Henry VIII in 1518, as the College of Physicians, the RCP is the oldest medical college in England.

The RCP's home in Regent's Park is one of the few post-war buildings to be listed at Grade I. In 2016 it was announced that the RCP was to open new premises in Liverpool at The Spine, a new building in the Liverpool Knowledge Quarter.[3] The Spine opened in May 2021.[4]


A college meeting in the early 19th century
Physicians Act 1523
Act of Parliament
Long titleThe Privileges and Authority of Physicians in London.
Citation14 & 15 Hen. 8. c. 5
Royal assent13 August 1523
College of Physicians Act 1553
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Acte touching thincorporations of the Phisitions in London.
Citation1 Mar. Sess. 2. c. 9
Other legislation
Repealed byStatute Law Revision Act 1948
Status: Repealed
Royal College of Physicians of London Act 1960
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Act to confer further powers on the Royal College of Physicians of London to confirm the name of the College and for other purposes.
Citation8 & 9 Eliz. 2. c. xvii
Royal assent2 June 1960
Text of statute as originally enacted

The college was incorporated as "the President and College or Commonalty of the Faculty of Physic in London" when it received a royal charter in 1518, affirmed by Act of Parliament in 1523. It is not known when the name "Royal College of Physicians of London" was first assumed or granted.[5] It came into use after the charter of 1663,[6] and was used to make reference to the college in the Medical Act 1858.[5] It was legally authorised as the college's corporate name by the Royal College of Physicians of London Act 1960, the function of which was primarily to move the premises of the college outside the cities of London or Westminster to Regent's Park).[5]

The Cutlerian Theatre in Warwick Lane, an anatomy theatre designed by Robert Hooke rebuilt after the Fire (demolished 1866).[7] The frontispiece to the Royal College's pharmacopeia, 1677. Engraving by David Loggan

The college was based at three sites in the City of London near St Paul's Cathedral, before moving to Pall Mall East (overlooking Trafalgar Square), and then to its current location in Regent's Park.[8]

The first Harveian Librarian was Christopher Merret, a fellow of the college and a friend of Harvey. He was set up with a lifetime appointment that compensated him with room and board and a small stipend. In 1666, the Great Fire of London destroyed many of the rooms and most of the books, so they tried to break the contract with Merret, but he fought them at the King's Court, claiming it was a lifetime appointment. He eventually lost the case, was expelled from the Fellowship, had to seek private lodgings and return the books he had rescued from the fire.[9] [10]

The college became the licensing body for medical books in the late seventeenth century, and sought to set new standards in learning through its own system of examinations. The college's tradition of examining continues to this day and it is still perhaps how the college is best known to the general public.

The Royal College of Physicians celebrated its 500-year anniversary in 2018.[11]

Membership and fellowship[edit]


The MRCP(UK) postnominal is used by doctors who have passed the examinations for the Diploma of Membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of the United Kingdom, which are held jointly by all of the UK Royal Colleges of Physicians.[12] Holders of the MRCP(UK) may also become "Collegiate Members" of the London College (using the additional post-nominal MRCP(Lond)) and/or of the other two UK colleges. Affiliate membership of the Royal College of Physicians is a similar level of membership as collegiate membership, but is awarded to senior doctors without MRCP(UK). Both Collegiate Members and Affiliate Members may be considered for advancement to fellowship of the college.

The college also has associate, medical student, and foundation doctor levels of membership.


FRCP, the Fellowship diploma of the Royal College of Physicians

Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians (who use the post-nominal FRCP)[13] are elected mostly from the general membership (collegiate or affiliate), but also occasionally from among the members of the more specialised faculties within the Royal Colleges of Physicians, e.g. Occupational Medicine (MFOM), Pharmaceutical Medicine (MFPM), and Forensic and Legal Medicine (MFLM), etc. There are also fellows who are elected de jure (usually medical experts from other countries) and honoris causa (dignitaries, members of the Royal Family, etc.).[14]

Physicians from the Royal College of Physicians published a series of works containing biographical entries of the fellows called Munk's Roll.


The library aims to support the learning and information needs of the members, students, and staff of the college. The unique collections may also used for research by members of the public. An enquiry service provides information on the current role and functions of the RCP as well as its history.[15] The library holds books on a range of subjects including:

Rare book collections[edit]

The Royal College of Physicians has had a library collection since its foundation in 1518, although most of the original books were destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666.[16] The rare books and special collections are diverse in coverage, reflecting the collecting habits of earlier fellows and the need to provide the broad educational base considered suitable for physicians.[17] The rare books are normally available to the general public, by appointment, Monday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm.[18]

Books and journals—new and old—display a continuum of change and development in the RCP's specialties, as well as in the medical profession. Highlights include:

  • approximately 130 books printed before 1502, including some of the earliest printings of the classical medical texts by Greek, Roman and Arabic doctors
  • books belonging to and annotated by the Elizabethan astrologer and occultist John Dee
  • approximately 3,000 books, dated up to 1688, in the Dorchester collection, on a variety of subjects including architecture, science and travel
  • over 4,500 tracts from the 17th to the 19th century covering a wide range of subjects, both medical and scientific
  • the Evan Bedford collection, which includes almost every significant text in the history of cardiology up to 1970

Highlights of the 20th-century collection include:

  • books relating to the history of the RCP's specialties
  • biographies of fellows and prominent figures in medicine
  • books relating to the formation of the National Health Service (NHS) and its continuing history
  • books relating to the history of hospitals in the UK
  • books relating to medical ethics and the status and role of the physician
  • every item published by the RCP, including reports and pamphlets.

The book collections are displayed in regularly changing exhibitions.

In December 2020 the college's Board of Trustees (BoT) discussed in detail the RCP's financial position, which, like so many charities, had been impacted significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic. All aspects of RCP activity had come under review and a range of cost reduction and income generation options considered, including the possible sale of non-medical books from its collection. The BoT recognised that this had caused concern for some quarters of the membership and agreed to delay such a sale for the immediate future.

Museum collections[edit]

Portrait of a Physician in His Library by Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen, one of the significant portraits in the Royal College of Physicians' collection

The museum collections at the Royal College of Physicians relate to the history of the college, and the history of the Physician's profession. They help to place the history and development of medicine and health care in its widest context. The collections include: portraits, silver, medical instruments, the Symons Collection, commemorative medals and anatomical tables.

The collection of c. 250 portraits provides a pictorial and sculptural record of presidents, Fellows and other physicians associated with it from its foundation in 1518 to the present day. It includes pieces by well-known artists, such as a bust of Baldwin Hamey Junior (1600–1676) by Edward Pierce and one of Richard Mead (1673–1754) by Louis François Roubiliac. There are portraits, such as that of Richard Hale (1670–1728) by Jonathan Richardson. In 1964 a volume on the Portraits of the college was published by Gordon Wolstenholme in which they were described by David Piper.

The silver collection has few pieces pre-dating the Great Fire of London (1666) because of a robbery during the previous year. Baldwin Hamey's inkstand bell and William Harvey's whalebone demonstration rod, tipped with silver, are two that survive.[19] Many pieces of silver are used to this day for formal occasions in the college. Special objects include the President's staff of office, the caduceus and the silver-gilt College mace.

The college also owns six 17th-century anatomical tables, probably made by drying and mounting the actual blood vessels and nerves of the human body onto blocks of wood and then varnishing them. They would have been used as a teaching aid for teaching anatomy, because it was difficult to obtain cadavers for dissection.

The Symons Collection of medical instruments is displayed within the college building. It began as a collection of objects relating to self-care in Georgian times and expanded to include items that would have been used by physicians when treating patients, mostly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The collections can be searched via an online catalogue and items on display are open to the general public Monday to Friday 9 am – 5 pm. The Royal College of Physicians is a member of the London Museums of Health & Medicine.[20]


The archive collections date back to the foundation of the Royal College of Physicians in 1518 and include the original Royal charter granted by King Henry VIII. The activities of the college are preserved in official minutes and other institutional records dating from the 16th century to the present.

Over 200 collections of personal papers reflect the experiences of practitioners and patients over the last 500 years. These collections include items dating back to the 13th century which relate to the history of medicine and science in Europe.

In the 19th century, William Munk, a fellow with a keen interest in medical biography started collection information about all the physicians who had either been licensed by the College or became a member. After years of research the resulting biographies were compiled into 3 volumes which included everyone who was a member of, or licensed by the college up to 1825. These volumes, published between 1861 and 1878 were the start of a series, known as Munk's Roll after the original compiler. Later volumes focussed on fellows and the series is now online with regular updates ensuring there is a biography for every past fellow from 1518 to the present.

The archive continues to collect records that demonstrate the developing roles of physicians, including oral recordings of practitioners reflecting on their lives and careers. The collections can be searched via an online catalogue,[21] and are available to the general public by appointment. The 'Voices of medicine' oral histories are available to listen to via the library catalogue.[21]


The Royal College of Physicians building is a Grade I Listed Building

The college is located in St. Andrews Place, which is at the north end of the road running up the east side of Regent's Park, Park Square East. The college's previous headquarters, on Pall Mall East/Trafalgar Square, is now Canada House, part of the Canadian high commission in London. The college had a number of other locations prior to Pall Mall East, in the City of London.

The Censors Room at The Royal College of Physicians

The current College building was designed by architect Sir Denys Lasdun, opening in 1964 and has since been recognised as a building of national importance: it is a Grade I listed building, one of a very select band of post-war buildings sharing this distinction.[22] Lasdun's use of mosaic clad concrete was extremely influential on many later public buildings. An interesting feature of the building was a 'Moving Wall', weighing five tons (5080 kg) and capable of being hydraulically lifted ten feet (3050 mm) to unite or sub-divide a hall of sixty-two feet (18.9 m) width, which was the interior width of the building. The hydraulic equipment and the steel framework for the Moving Wall were produced by Merryweather & Sons Ltd of Greenwich, hydraulic engineers. Although better known for fire fighting equipment it was not the company's first installation of this kind.[23]


The college publishes two peer-reviewed medical journals. Clinical Medicine and Future Healthcare Journal. In addition, it publishes regular reports, clinical guidelines, policy papers and online resources. Occupational and Environmental Medicine is the official journal of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine.

Commentary is the membership magazine. It is published every 2 months.


The Royal College of Physicians hosts six training faculties: the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine, the Faculty for Pharmaceutical Medicine, the Faculty of Occupational Medicine the Faculty of Public Health, the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine and the Faculty of Physician Associates.

Forensic and Legal Medicine[edit]

The Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine (FFLM) was established as a faculty of the RCP in 2006 to develop and maintain the highest possible standards of competence and professional integrity in forensic and legal medicine. The specialty covers professionals working in three related disciplines: forensic medical practitioners (forensic physicians, forensic nurses and paramedics, forensic pathologists, sexual assault examiners, and child physical and sexual assault examiners); medico-legal advisers; and medically qualified coroners. The FFLM holds a number of exams for professionals working in Forensic and Legal Medicine.[24] It is recognised as the authoritative body for the purpose of consultation in matters of educational or public interest concerning forensic and legal medicine.[25]

Pharmaceutical Medicine[edit]

The Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine (FPM) of the royal colleges of physicians of the UK (Edinburgh, Glasgow and London) aims to advance the science and practice of pharmaceutical medicine by working to develop and maintain competence, ethics and integrity and the highest professional standards in the specialty for the benefit of the public.[26]

Occupational Medicine[edit]

The Faculty of Occupational Medicine was inaugurated as a specialist faculty of the RCP in 1978. The FOM is the professional and educational body for occupational medicine in the UK and seeks to ensure the highest standards in the practice of occupational medicine.[27]

Public Health[edit]

The Faculty of Public Health (FPH) is a joint faculty of the three royal colleges of physicians of the United Kingdom (London, Edinburgh and Glasgow). It is a membership organisation for nearly 4,000 public health professionals across the UK and around the world. Its role is to improve the health and wellbeing of local communities and national populations.

Sport and Exercise Medicine[edit]

The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine (FSEM) UK is the governing body for the specialty of sport and exercise medicine (SEM) in the UK. It is an intercollegiate faculty of the RCP and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Physician Associates[edit]

The Faculty of Physician Associates was founded in 2015 with the collaboration of the RCP and the UK Association of Physician Associates (UKAPA).[28][29] The Faculty is the professional membership body for physician associates in the UK, and sets standards for the education and training of physician associates, publishes the PA national curriculum and oversees the running of the PA national certification examinations. It oversees the PA managed voluntary register.[30]

On 13 March 2024 the RCP held an Extraordinary General Meeting, the third in its history, to debate the issue of physician associates and their role, scope of practice, and regulation.[31]

Lecture series[edit]

The college holds an annual lecture, commonly referred to as the Lumleian Lectures, which were named in honour of Lord Lumley and established as part of the Lumleian Trust. The trust and lectures were established in 1582 by Richard Caldwell, a former president of the college.[32] The subject matter of the lectures was initially in surgery, which was later changed to in medicine.[33] The first lecture was given by Richard Forster, and the lectures continue to today.

Once a year, traditionally on St Luke's Day (18th October), a Fellow is appointed to deliver the Harveian Oration to the assembled college in memory of William Harvey. The oration seeks to honour the founders and benefactors of the college and encourage a spirit of experimentation amongst the members.

Other annual lectures are the Bradshaw Lecture, the Croonian Lecture, the Goulstonian Lecture, the Fitzpatrick Lecture, and the Milroy Lectures.


The Bisset Hawkins Medal is a triennial award founded in 1899 in honour of Francis Bisset Hawkins, a fellow of the college, to recognise work done in the preceding ten years in advancing sanitary science or promoting public health.[34] The Baly Medal is a biennial award, founded by a gift from Frederick Daniel Dyster (1809?–93) received in 1866, confirmed by deed 1930 – in memory of William Baly: £400 to provide a gold medal for the person deemed to have most distinguished himself in the science of physiology, especially during the previous two years.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "RCP reaches 40,000 members". Royal College of Physicians. 12 May 2021. Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  2. ^ "RCP annual report 2019: The voice of our members". Royal College of Physicians. 22 July 2020. Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  3. ^ Murphy, Liam (29 July 2016). "Liverpool secures new Royal College of Physicians northern headquarters". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  4. ^ "RCP at The Spine". Royal College of Physicians. 6 September 2021. Retrieved 29 October 2022.
  5. ^ a b c "Royal College of Physicians of London Act 1960" (PDF). UK Parliament. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  6. ^ Davenport, Geoffrey; McDonald, Ian; Moss-Gibbons, Caroline (2001). The Royal College of Physicians and Its Collections: An Illustrated History. Royal College of Physicians. p. 26. ISBN 9780907383833. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  7. ^ "Architecture and buildings :Warwick Lane 1675–1825". Royal College of Physicians. Archived from the original on 26 December 2012. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  8. ^ Mason, A. Stuart (2001). "3. College premises and precincts". In Davenport, Geoffrey; McDonald, Ian; Moss-Gibbons, Caroline (eds.). The Royal College of Physicians and Its Collections: An Illustrated History. Royal College of Physicians. pp. 60–69. ISBN 0-907-383-831.
  9. ^ Munk, William. "Christopher Merrett". Royal Society of Physicians, Lives of the Fellows, Volume I. p. 258. Archived from the original on 4 July 2019. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  10. ^ Dodds 1954.
  11. ^ "Innovation in Medicine 2018: RCP annual conference". RCP London. 27 April 2017. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  12. ^ "About us | MRCPUK". Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  13. ^ Anon (2016). "Fellowship of the RCP". London: Royal College of Physicians. Archived from the original on 15 June 2016.
  14. ^ "Fellowship of the RCP". RCP London. Archived from the original on 15 June 2016. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  15. ^ "Library". RCP London. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  16. ^ "Library collections | RCP Museum".
  17. ^ "Archive and historical library collections". RCP London. 20 July 2015. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  18. ^ "Research services | RCP Museum".
  19. ^ Munk, William. "William Harvey". Royal Society of Physicians, Lives of the Fellows, Volume I. p. 124. Archived from the original on 2 April 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  20. ^ "Medical Museums". Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  21. ^ a b "RCP Adlib | Home page".
  22. ^ "RCP architecture and buildings". Royal College of Physicians. 15 January 2015. Retrieved 11 December 2015.
  23. ^ Technical details of the Moving Wall can be found in Engineering Journal, 1 January 1965.
  24. ^ "Exams". FFLM. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  25. ^ "House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 18 Mar 2009 (pt 0006)". Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  26. ^ "Training and development (pharmaceutical medicine)". Health Education England. 15 May 2015. Retrieved 12 December 2015.
  27. ^ "Spotlight on Royal Colleges: Faculty of Occupational Medicine". Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  28. ^ "New Faculty of Physician Associates launched today" (Press release). Royal College of Physicians. 2 July 2015. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  29. ^ "Joint statement on the announcement of more physician associates" (Press release). Royal College of Physicians. 22 August 2014. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  30. ^ "PAMVR | Faculty of Physician Associates – quality health care across the NHS". Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  31. ^ Kar, Partha (12 March 2024). "Physician associates: a pause in rollout is needed". BMJ: q634. doi:10.1136/bmj.q634. PMID 38471721.
  32. ^ "Richard Caldwell". Munks Roll. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 15 May 2013.
  33. ^ "Heritage Centre : College Lectures". Royal College of Physicians. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
  34. ^ Farewell V, Johnson T (2010). "Woods and Russell, Hill, and the emergence of medical statistics". Stat Med. 29 (14): 1459–76. doi:10.1002/sim.3893. PMC 2991772. PMID 20535761.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

51°31′33″N 00°08′42″W / 51.52583°N 0.14500°W / 51.52583; -0.14500