175 years of medicine at Newcastle

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The University’s Medical School is one of the oldest in the UK, and its 175 years have seen an array of developments that have revolutionised healthcare in the North East and beyond. Below is a timeline of key events from 1834 to the present day, with an introduction by Professor Michael Whitaker, the Medical School’s Dean of Development.

When the Medical School first opened in 1834, surgery was still performed without anaesthesia or asepsis. It would be 25 years before doctors’ training was formally accredited with the formation of the General Medical Council, and 40 years before the Public Health Act finally led to a decline in the fierce rates of infectious disease, particularly among the poor.  The contrast between the practice and outcomes of medicine then and now is extreme.

Since the current Medical School building opened in 1984, there have been many more changes in the way we teach and practice medicine. MRI and CT scans were developed in the 1970s, along with rational drug design. And sequencing the human genome began in 1990 at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Now a Californian company offers to sequence your genome for $5,000.

Excited by these developments, doctors doing clinical research spent much time at the bench and less at the bedside.  The pendulum is now swinging the other way with an increasing realisation that much medical knowledge acquired so painstakingly and at such cost in the last quarter century has yet to be translated into benefit to patients.  The next 25 years will see a renewed emphasis on the individual patient: personalised medicine that takes note of her genetic makeup; regenerative medicine that uses a patient’s own cells; and diet and exercise advice as an alternative to drugs.

Newcastle’s Medical School is recognised as one of the best for teaching and research, and our research training programme for clinicians leads the way in the UK. A lot will change in the next 25 years and our expectation of excellence in all we do leads us to hope that we will continue to benefit patients, perhaps in ways now unimagined.


1834

On 1 October, the Newcastle upon Tyne School of Medicine and Surgery begins teaching at the Worshipful Company of Barber-Surgeons in Manors, east of the City Centre. This was a result of years of hard work by local doctors and surgeons, led by John Fife who had secured ‘handsome donations’.


1854

Early graduate John Snow discovers the link between water and cholera that had long devastated the UK population. Snow became an apprentice surgeon in 1827, at the age of 14.


1856

After merging with Durham University in 1852, the now College of Medicine produces its first Licentiate in Midwifery (LM). The first Bachelor of Medicine (MB) graduates two years later, and the first Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1861.


1862

60 Medical students.


1870

The college becomes formally recognised as Durham University College of Medicine. By 1879, it’s the largest provincial school of medicine in the country.


1924

Frederick Pybus, a graduate and surgeon at the RVI, publishes a paper in medical journal, The Lancet, on his attempts to cure diabetes by pancreatic transplantation. It’s 42 years before the first transplant of a pancreas is performed successfully.


1927

245 medical students.


1934

The College of Medicine merges with Armstrong College (founded 1871) to create King’s College, on the School’s one hundredth anniversary.


King George VI opens the old Medical School on Queen Victoria Street in 19391936

432 medical students.


1939

King George VI opens the then new Medical School on Queen Victoria Street, opposite the Royal Victoria Infirmary.


1947

The ‘Thousand Families Study’ follows children born in Newcastle in May and June 1947. Findings include that, by the age of 15, children from more affluent households are on average more than an inch taller and contract fewer infections than their poorer counterparts. It continues to provide valuable information even today. Follow-ups with the study participants at 50 have found a link between poor foetal growth and cardiovascular disease; and the effects of birth weight, breast feeding and childhood health on respiratory health in later life.


1962

Newcastle Medical School becomes the first in the country to offer an integrated curriculum, giving students early clinical exposure as part of their studies. The revolutionary MB BS course is based on an American model.


1963

Independence from Durham leads to the formation of Newcastle University.


The current location of the Medical School at Framlington Place, which opened in 19841984

Her Royal Highness the Queen Mother opens the new Medical School at Framlington Place, its current location behind the Royal Victoria Infirmary.


1988

Researchers at Newcastle find a link between the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease and exposure to aluminium in water supplies. Results show that Alzheimer’s sufferers tend to absorb more aluminium into their blood than others.


1999

A computer system developed at Newcastle University by Ian Purves (MB BS 1985, MD 1998) becomes the world’s first national prescribing system for doctors, following adoption by the government.


2001

Professor Mark Birch-Machin discovers a link between sunlight and damage to DNA that is found in mitochondria, a cell’s energy supply.

Annual intake of students reaches 290.

A partnership with Durham University is re-established with the first intake of Medical students at Queen’s campus in Stockton, Teesside.


2004

Newcastle is designated as one of six UK Science Cities in recognition of the city’s remarkable achievements in science and technology. Building work is currently underway to transform part of the city into Science Central, which will be a hub of activity for scientific research and industry, bringing a huge economic boost to the region.


2005

Researchers in the University’s Institute of Human genetics create the world’s first cloned human blastocyst, from which embryonic stem cells can be harvested. These cells could provide a key to treating some of our most debilitating illnesses.


2008

Work begins on an £18 million centre to study bacteria, which aims to answer fundamental questions about bacterial cells – including MRSA and Clostridium Difficile – how they develop and how they can be controlled.NUMed, the University's Malaysian medical campus, is due to open in 2011


2009

Work continues on the new NUMed medical campus in Malaysia, and the first intake of Malaysian students arrive in Newcastle before it opens in 2011.

published on: 19th February 2010

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