Which collection items are available digitally?

Medical Heritage Library: Digitised copies of the College’s nineteenth century medical texts, consisting of over 10,000 fully accessible texts that were digitised in collaboration with other medical libraries.

Remote and Rural Remedies: Digitised surveys carried out in the 1850s regarding medical provision in the Highlands and Islands

RCPE Artefacts Online: Images of the College’s 3D artefacts, including artwork, medicine chests and murder weapons. Each record contains an image, a description, a date and a collection reference.

William Cullen Papers: Made in collaboration with the University of Glasgow, the Cullen Project is an online database of the consultation letters of Dr William Cullen.

Database of Scotland’s WW1 Doctors: Contains the registration forms of First World War Scottish medical practitioners.

Oil Paintings Online: View the College’s oil paintings online and read the history behind them.

Sculpture and Bust Collection: Descriptions and illustrations of the College’s collection.

Physicians’ Canes: Images and descriptions of the College’s cane collection.

All of our digitised collections can be browsed on our Catalogues & Digitised Material webpages.

What other online resources does the College have?

English-Speaking Students Database: Information on around 3,500 English-speaking medical students who studied on the continent between the 15th and early 19th centuries.

COVID-19 Archive: Full length recordings carried out with a range of medical practitioners relating to their experiences during the pandemic.

Oral history interviews: Recordings with prominent past Fellows and Presidents, carried out between the 1970s and the present day.

Climate Change Archive. Full length recordings carried out with a range of medical practitioners about their thoughts and experiences concerning the relationship between climate change and health.

History of the College: Online resources about the College's own history, including information about prominent figures from the College's history.

What is the difference between a Fellow, a Member and a Licentiate?

Several terms have been used since the College's founding to describe a physician’s relationship with the College. To further complicate matters, these terms have changed meaning over time, and it can be confusing when researching physicians related to the College.

First, there are Licentiates. For a physician to practice medicine they had to hold a license. Once the College was established, if a physician wanted to practice in Edinburgh and its surrounding neighbourhood, they were required to hold a College licence obtainable by examination. Graduates of Scottish universities were exempt from this, and the license, though not obligatory, was available to those who practiced outside of the College’s jurisdiction, provided they satisfied the examiners and payed the appropriate fees. Once the exam was passed, the physician in question would become a Licentiate of the College.

In the early days, the College usually granted individuals a license and a Fellowship in one sitting, allowing the physicians to contribute to the College’s organisation while elevating their status in the medical community. As such, the initial intermediate state of Licentiate became largely redundant and was discarded around 1710. In 1763, Licentiateship was again made a necessary stepping-stone to Fellowship, and it was stipulated that at least a year must have elapsed between being granted a licence and become a Fellow. However, this rule was not consistently followed, and it was rescinded once more in 1829.

This would remain the case until the Medical Act of 1858 established the Medical Register, which listed all approved to practice in the Great Britain and Ireland, and continues to do so to this day. The issue that then arose was a matter of standardisation; while the College was recognised by the Medical Register, the College’s exam only qualified physicians, not surgeons or pharmacists. In order to not be overshadowed by the other organisations around Britain, the College collaborated with the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh to introduce the Double Qualification in 1859. From then on, Licentiateship meant an individual had passed an examination set by two or more medical colleges in partnership—it did not indicate any relationship between a single College and a Licentiate.

Under the terms of the charter of 1861, a new level between Licentiate and Fellow was created which now had to pass an examination. This was the beginning of College Membership. The terms Fellow and Member were used reasonably indiscriminately in early records of the College for people who didn’t technically hold those titles, and while an individual may have been described in the records as Member prior to the mid-19th century, this term was no then used in the sense in which we understand it in the 21st century.

After the creation of the MRCP(UK) examination in the 1960s, the College, along with Glasgow and London, agreed to establish a category of membership called Collegiate Members, who have extra privileges over ordinary Members. Similarly, in order to become a Fellow today, the criteria is extensive, requiring a number of years of service to the medical field, evidence of teaching and publications, as well as significant contribution to current research.

What is on the catalogues?

We have three collection catalogues which list the items which you can find in our collections.

Our library catalogue contains over 60,000 records—unfortunately, not everything is listed. If you can’t find what you are looking for, please contact us.

Our Archives and Museum Catalogue contains listings of all deposited collections, the College’s own papers and the College's museum object collections.

Our Journal Catalogue contains listings of almost 1,500 journal titles. Please note: we are currently doing a journal audit and this list will be updated in the future.

Is there a cost to using the collections?

You are welcome to either make an appointment to visit in person or ask for information via email or phone. There is no fee attached to using our resources, although a donation is always appreciated.

I'm not a Fellow or Member, can I use these resources?

The College's collections are open to everyone, you do not need to be connected with the College to visit our Reading Room or make an enquiry.

What are the opening hours for the Reading Room?

Our reading room is open Monday – Friday, 10am – 4.30pm.

Do I need to advance book to visit?

Advance booking is essential if you plan on visiting our Reading Room.

You do not need to advance book to visit the Physicians’ Gallery.

How can I contact the College to book a visit?

Please contact us via email (at library@rcpe.ac.uk) at least 24 hours in advance of your proposed visit date. You can also contact us over the phone on +44(0)131 225 7324.

What do I need to know when I visit the Reading Room?

If you plan to visit us, please be aware certain rules must be followed. These are:

-    No material may be removed from the Reading Room.
-    Readers must handle all items with care and follow the advice of a member of staff.
-    Readers must not mark, trace, or try to force items open.
-    Gloves should be used when indicated.
-    Pencils must be used. Pens, highlighters, post-It notes and scissors are not allowed.
-    No food or drink, including bottles of water and chewing gum, are allowed.
-    Laptops are brought into the Reading Room at the owner’s risk.
-    Readers must be considerate to other readers and treat Reading Room staff with courtesy.
-    Readers must leave the premises immediately in emergencies, and when requested to do so by staff.

Do I need to apply for a visitor card or bring personal ID?

You do not need to apply for a visitor card or bring ID with you when you visit us.

Can I charge my electronic device in the Reading Room?

There are power points in the Reading Room where you can charge your laptop, mobile phone, camera etc. There is no charge for use of these power points.

Can I photograph or photocopy items?

You are welcome to photograph items when you visit. We also have a photocopier in the Reading Room and we can photocopy items for you.

You may not use a camera flash when photographing items.

Are there restrictions or costs for photography or photocopying?

There are no costs for either personal photography or photocopying of items.

There are no restrictions on the type of camera or recording device that can be used.

Are there restrictions on what I can do with the images?

All images provided are for non commercial purposes, either for personal study or non-published academic work.

Requests to use images for commercial or published purposes are authorised on a case-by-case basis and you must email library@rcpe.ac.uk and gain express written permission to use items from our collections for these purposes.

Is there anywhere to eat or drink in the College?

The College does not have a canteen, café or place for visitors to eat lunch they have brought in. We are located in central Edinburgh with many places to eat close by, particularly on Hanover Street and Frederick Street.

Is there disabled access at the College?

There is a disabled lift providing access to the College and disabled toilets within the College. Our Physicians’ Gallery is fully accessible. Unfortunately our Reading Room is not accessible but we can provide access to our collections and resources in an alternative accessible space, just let us know your requirements when you book your visit.