Royal College of Physicians

From Academic Kids

The Royal College of Physicians of London is the oldest medical institution in England, and among the most active of all medical professional organisations. Since the College's creation 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. Its membership (and the MRCP(UK) title) is obtained by doctors who have completed the Membership of the Royal College of Physicians exams. Fellows (the FRCP title) are elected.

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History

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, used for regulating the composition of medicines from 1618, 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diseases which was to last until the World Health Organisation's Manual of the international classification of diseases superseded it in the twentieth century.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.

Collections

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 not open to the general public.

Facility

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.

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