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History of the Medical School

In 1821 the first medical student was admitted as a pupil to a Belfast Hospital.  His name was William Bingham and he came from the village of Dundonald.  William paid a fee of one guinea to see "the practice and act as dresser" in the Fever Hospital which was situated in Frederick Street (off York Street), Belfast.  The Fever Hospital was opened in 1817 and continued to function until 1903, when the newly built Royal Victoria Hospital, Grosvenor Road, took its place.

The increasing prosperity of the community in Ulster in the early nineteenth century fuelled the desire of its citizens for better educational facilities for their children.  As a consequence, in 1814 the Belfast Academical Institution (later re-named the Royal Belfast Academical Institution) was opened, and it was intended that, besides having a day school and a boarding school, the Institution would also house a college in which students could study for the Ministry, or for Medicine.  The Board of the Faculty of Arts had its first meeting in the year 1817, but the Board of the Faculty of Medicine did not meet until October 1835.  The Medical School opened in 1835 and was housed in a small brick building behind the North Wing of "Inst".  The building, which would easily fit into the present dissecting room in the Medical Biology Centre, had a dissecting room and lecture theatre.  The College could not award diplomas or degrees and, until the year 1849, students were compelled to sit final examinations and graduate from either the University of Glasgow or the University of Edinburgh.

Sir William Whitla appointed Professor of materia medica Queen's College in 1890
Sir William Whitla appointed Professor of materia medica Queen's College in 1890

The Queen's College Belfast opened in 1849 and, together with the Queen's Colleges of Galway and Cork, was a constituent college of the Queen's University in Ireland which awarded degrees.  Dissection continued at "Inst" until 1863, when the new Medical Block opened at the Queen's College, on the site of the present Administration Building.  Students commuted between "Inst" and the Queen's College from 1849 until 1863.  The initial liaison between the Hospital and the College continued and the emphasis, then and until the present day, has been on careful history taking and clinical examination of patients throughout the medical course.  In 1889, Miss Jean Bell was the first female student to be admitted to medical classes.

In 1908, Queen's College Belfast received its Charter as The Queen's University of Belfast.  The Medical Block at Queen's was extended, and medical students spent much of their time on the University campus.

The Ulster Hospital has taught medical students since 1882; the Mater Infirmorum Hospital was recognised as a Teaching Hospital in 1908; and the staff of the Belfast City Hospital have taught an increasing number of students for many years.  Today all the hospitals in Belfast and the majority of hospitals in the Province play an important role in medical education.

Medical students - Rag Day 1895
Medical students - Rag Day 1895

The Belfast Medical Students' Association was founded in 1886, and is now the oldest active student society at Queen's.  It has played a considerable, and welcome, role in the development of the Medical School.  In the early days of The Queen's College, it petitioned for better student amenities, and the building of the Students' Union (opened 1896, now the Department of Music) was the direct result of its protest.

The Board of the Faculty of the Medical Department had 5 members in 1835; today the staff of the School numbers over 500. In 1845 the number of students studying medicine was 55 out of a total of 195 attending the university college.  Today the number of full-time students are approximately 1200 medical,  200 dental, and 400 Biomedical out of a University total of more than 21,000 students.

As a student in the Queen's University you are part of a continuum which has survived successfully for more than one hundred and seventy years.