University of Cambridge Medical School

University of Cambridge Medical School

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.