Royal College of Physicians
The Royal College of Physicians of London was the first medical institution in England to receive a Royal Charter. It was founded in 1518 and is one of the most active of all medical professional organisations. Since the College's creation as the College of Physicians (it acquired the "Royal" prefix in 1674) by royal charter of King Henry VIII in 1518, it has engaged in a wide range of activities dedicated to its overall aim of upholding and improving standards of medical practice. The MRCP(UK) postnominals are obtained by doctors who have passed the Membership of the Royal College of Physicians examinations, held jointly with the other three Royal Colleges of Physicians in the UK and Ireland, through one of the UK colleges. Since the joint exam was originally set up with the other two UK colleges, the old qualification of MRCP (London) has continued to be awarded to a small number of people without examination. Holders of the MRCP (UK) are entitled to become "Collegiate Members" of this and/or the other two UK colleges. Both kinds of members may be considered for advancement to the fellowship. Fellows (the FRCP title) are elected. The Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians (LRCP) is no longer awarded. The LRCP examination used to be reserved for foreign (including Scottish) MDs, but in the nineteenth century became part of a very popular initial qualification in medicine awarded together with the MRCS (Eng) by the Conjoint Board and by the end of the twentieth century came to be largely taken by overseas graduates. From 1993 the LRCP was awarded together with the LRCS and LMSSA through the United Examining Board until this pathway to medical registration was abolished in 1999. The current president of the college is Prof Ian Gilmore PRCP.
A small group of distinguished physicians, led by the scholar and humanist Thomas Linacre, petitioned the King to be incorporated into a College similar to those found in a number of other European countries. The main functions of the College, as set down in the founding Charter, were to grant licenses to those qualified to practice and to punish unqualified practitioners and those engaging in malpractice. This included apothecaries as well as physicians.
Throughout its history the College has issued advice across the whole range of medical and health matters. College publications include the first ten editions of the London Pharmacopoeia (written in Latin, and used for regulating the composition of medicines from 1618 and, through the College's police the Censors, for enforcing the College's monopoly on medical science, then being challenged by the Society of Apothecaries), and the `Nomenclature of Diseases' in 1869. The latter created the international standard for the classification of diseases which was to last until the World Health Organisation's Manual of the international classification of diseases superseded it in the twentieth century.
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 great tradition of examining continues to this day and it is still perhaps how the College is best known to the general public.
The 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. Each individual item has a story to tell and can provide insights into a continual movement for the advancement of healthcare.
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 some outstanding 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. But perhaps of more interest are the portraits by lesser-known artists, revealing their best talents, such as Richard Hale (1670-1728) by Jonathan Richardson.
The silver collection reflects events in the College’s history as well as the lives and generosity of its Fellows and Members. Few pieces pre-date the Great Fire of London (1666) because of a robbery during the previous year. Baldwin Hamey’s inkstand bell and William Harvey's demonstration rod are two of the pieces that survive. Many pieces of silver are ‘working’ objects and 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 well displayed within the College building. The collection 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 are open to the general public by appointment.
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 building itself is notable. It was designed by architect Sir Denys Lasdun 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. Lasdun's use of mosaic clad conrete was extremely influential on many later public buildings.
Clinical Medicine is the College's own medical journal. It appears twice a month. In addition, the college publishes regular reports, clinical guidelines, and the annual series "Horizons in Medicine".
- Official website RCPLONDON
- Official website MRCPUK
- Notes on the Royal College of Physicians from the Scholarly Societies project (includes information on the journals of the society)