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 an archive 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 resources does the College hold?

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 early 2000s.

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 45,000 records—unfortunately, not everything is listed. If you can’t find what you are looking for, please contact us.

Our Archives Catalogue contains listings of all deposited collections, the College’s own papers and the College's 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 do I need to know when visiting?

For information about access and opening hours, please visit our Services & Visiting Us webpages.

If you do 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 Library 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.