History of Birmingham Medical School

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Birmingham Medical School dates back to the 1820s and has a long history of delivering pioneering research within the close partnership between hospital and academic medicine on a single site, which continues today. We are proud of our close history and partnership with what is now known as Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham. A brief history of Birmingham Medical School and its journey from inception to the present day is outlined below.

The early years

1825 – Local surgeon William Sands Cox advertised a series of ‘Anatomical Demonstrations with Surgical and Physiological Observations’ for students in Aris’ Birmingham Gazette for students, held in his father’s house at 24 Temple Row. This became to be known as 'The Birmingham School of Medicine and Surgery'. 

1828 – Many leading clinicians in the area became interested in Sands Cox’s establishment, resulting in a meeting between Sands Cox and senior members of those in the medical profession. A notable attendee, who later became the first lecturer in the medical school, was Dr John Kaye Booth, physician to the General Hospital (1812-1835). The school became recognised by existing examining bodies in October of that year as the new teaching course was continually developed Dr Richard Pearson, who was the current successor as physician to the General Hospital. 

1829  With the rapidly increasingly number of students, Sands Cox transferred teaching from Temple Row to two newly-opened buildings: one in Snow Hill Rail Station, the other on Paradise Street. The teaching curriculum was also further developed during this time. 

1836  King William IV accepted the office of Patron of the school, as such the medical school became known as ‘The Birmingham Royal School of Medicine and Surgery.’

Establishment of Queen’s College and Queen’s Hospital

1841  Queen’s Hospital was established by Sands Cox with the aim for it to be built primarily for teaching students. In April, Queen Victoria agreed that it be known as The Queen’s Hospital at Birmingham. It was one of the first provincial hospitals opened specifically for teaching, as both resident and honorary staff were appointed on the strict understanding that they were to instruct medical students.

1843 The medical school was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria, thus establishing it as Queen’s College. This gave the senior academic staff the right to be called Professor, and the students were now permitted to sit examinations and admitted to the medical degrees of MB and MD of the University of London.

1867  After Queen’s College endured a series of financial struggles, the 1867 Act repealed the charters of Queen’s College and effectively created a new institution; medical education became free from religious influences and the management of the medical school and Queen’s Hospital was separated. 

Merge with rival institutions: Sydenham College and Mason Science College

1868  Rival institution Sydenham College was dissolved and incorporated into Queen’s College, which fused the academic staff. Clinical teaching now took place at both General Hospital and Queen’s Hospital.

1880  Sir Josiah Mason, a Birmingham industrialist and philanthropist, founded Mason Science College, which taught both sciences and theology, on Edmund Street. The science department’s facilities was far superior to those at Queen’s College, resulting in several departments, such as the Department of Chemistry, Botany and Physiology being transferred to Mason Science College, soon followed by the Departments of Physics and Comparative Anatomy.

1892  The Medical Faculty at Queen’s College fully transferred to Mason Science College, resulting in it become the Queen’s Faculty of Medicine in Mason Science College. This left the theology department as Mason Science College to deteriorate, ultimately falling into obscurity.

1897  The Mason University College Act was passed, resulting in the faculty’s full incorporation into Mason Science College, and established the institution as Mason University College with the Right Honourable Joseph Chamberlain MP as the first President of its Courts of Governors.

The University of Birmingham

1900  The Royal Charter was granted by Queen Victoria and brought into effect by the Birmingham University Act, which transferred Mason University College to the new University of Birmingham with Chamberlain as its first Chancellor and Sir Oliver Lodge as the first Principal.

1902  Under the leadership of Sir Gilbert Barling, the medical school (now the Faculty of Medicine) within the University continued to develop rapidly.

1911  The Clinical Board granted honorary university status to call clinical teachers in the associated teaching hospitals.

Towards the 21st century

1914-1914  During the First World War, teaching became concentrated on the Edgbaston campus. The Edgbaston campus buildings were used by the Royal Army Medical Corps as the First Southern General Hospital. Beginning with 520 beds on mobilisation, it expanded to 1,520 and eventually in 1918. With outlying sections and affiliated hospitals, such as Dudley Road, it offered the War Office 3,264 beds, in which a total of 130,569 patients were treated during the conflict.

1938  The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (previously called the Central Hospital) was opened on Edgbaston campus after years of planning and efforts of Dr Stanley Barnes. It was one of the last great achievements of the voluntary hospital system, as it provided the people of Birmingham with an alternative to the medical services of the Poor Law, and before the much-welcomed creation of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948.

1940  The opening of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital meant Queen’s Hospital was passed out and closed. However, the building soon re-opened in 1941 as the Birmingham Accidental Hospital, the last voluntary hospital opened before the introduction of the NHS. The pre-clinical departments led by some of the greatest figures of their day was enlarged and became major internationally-recognised centres of research.

1946  There was a recognised need for full-time clinical professors to be appointed in Medicine, Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and Paediatric and Child Health with Professorial Units and facilities for laboratory research. This brought a great distinction to the medical school and held important professional roles within their respective fields, nationally and internationally.

1948  With the creation of the NHS, the management of all the city’s hospitals came under the control of the Birmingham Regional Hospitals Board, with the exception of teaching hospitals or the United Birmingham Hospitals, as they became known. This also meant many hospitals in the region were at the disposal of the medical school for clinical postgraduate study and recently qualified young doctors by a progressive Regional Board. Additionally, this was the prerequisite for the approval or a compulsory residential year between qualification and full registration by students.

1959-1982  During the next few decade, there were major departmental and structural developments to the faculty:

  • 1969 – The Barnes Library
  • 1965 – The Dental School and Hospital was transferred to a new building adjacent to the General Hospital
  • 1969 – The medical school’s west wing, which provided a large lecture theatre to accommodate all the preclinical students, and accommodation for the Department of Pathological Studies
  • 1979 – The Department of Haematology was opened
  • 1982 – The Wolfson Centre and the Clinical Teaching Block at the General Hospital

1966  There was a dramatic increase of students over the years with the introduction of the Bachelor of Medical Science degree, both for three years and intercalated, along with a number of new postgraduate courses. As such, the title of the faculty was changed to the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry to recognise the growing size and importance of the Dental School.

1980s  Researchers in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry took on board the ethnic diversity of Birmingham and the West Midlands, which contributed to better understanding of health care of Afro-Caribbean and Asian populations.

1982  The opening of the Institute for Occupational Health was one of the greatest milestones in the history of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, making the University of Birmingham a leader in this field in the country and internationally.

1997  The Schools of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences were created, and still kept their links through teaching and research. 

The present day

1998  The first full-time Dean, Professor William Doe, developed a series of major initiatives that took the Medical School into the new millennium:

  • Being awarded the greatest increase in students awarded to any medical school, increasing the annual intake to over 400
  • The ‘Black Country Strategy,’ the much-needed expansion of clinical training
  • The graduate entry scheme for medicine
  • The award for funding by the Joint Infrastructure Fund for the multi-million pound Institute for Biomedical Research, which opened in 2004
  • The establishment of the Henry Wellcome Building for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Europe’s leading facility
  • The establishment, with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Central England (now known as Birmingham City University), of the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine
  • The building of the Wolfson Centre for Medical Education
  • The development of the Institute for Translational Medicine

2013  Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham became a centre of excellence for research into burns, following an award by the Healing Foundation.

2015  The Centre for Translational Inflammation Research and the Centre for Health Ageing was established. The Institute of Translational Medicine was also established, a new world class clinical research facility which the University, together with two partner NHS Foundation Trusts, developed.

2016  Opening of the £50 million Dental Hospital and School at Pebble Mill.