Royal College of Surgeons of England

The Royal College of Surgeons of England (abbreviated RCS and sometimes RCSEng) is an independent professional body and registered charity that promotes and advances standards of surgical care for patients, and regulates surgery and dentistry in England and Wales. The College is located at Lincoln's Inn Fields in London. It publishes multiple medical journals including the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the Faculty Dental Journal, and the Bulletin of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.


The origins of the college date to the fourteenth century with the foundation of the "Guild of Surgeons Within the City of London".[1] Certain sources date this as occurring in 1368. There was ongoing dispute between the surgeons and barber surgeons until an agreement was signed between them in 1493, giving the fellowship of surgeons the power of incorporation.[2] This union was formalised further in 1540 by Henry VIII between the Worshipful Company of Barbers (incorporated 1462) and the Guild of Surgeons to form the Company of Barber-Surgeons. In 1745 the surgeons broke away from the barbers to form the Company of Surgeons. In 1800 the company was granted a Royal Charter to become the Royal College of Surgeons in London. A further charter in 1843 granted it the present title of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Members and Fellows of the College

The correct way to address a member or fellow of The Royal College of Surgeons is to use the title Mr, Miss, Mrs, or Ms (not Dr). This system (which applies only to surgeons, not physicians) has its origins in the 16th century, when surgeons were barber-surgeons and did not have a medical degree (or indeed any formal qualification), unlike physicians, who, by the 18th century, held a university medical degree and could thus be referred to as "Doctor". By the time the College of Surgeons received its Royal Charter in 1800, the Royal College of Physicians were insisting that candidates for membership for the college of Surgeons must have a medical degree first.[3] Therefore, the ensuing years saw aspiring surgeons having to study medicine first and hence receive the title Doctor. Thereafter, having obtained the diploma of Member or Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons he would revert to the title "Mr" as a snub to the RCP. Nowadays the title "Mr" is used by Members of the College who have passed the diploma MRCS examination and the College addresses Members as "Mr" or "Ms".[3]

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, the distinction is made in the following conversation:

Come, come, we are not so far wrong after all," said Holmes. "And now, Dr. James Mortimer--"

"Mister, sir, Mister--a humble M.R.C.S.

Despite Mortimer's correction, he is referred to as "Dr. Mortimer" throughout the story.

A biographical register of fellows is available on Plarr's Lives of the Fellows Online


The Company of Surgeons moved from Surgeon's Hall in Old Bailey to a site at 41 Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1797. Construction of the first College building, to a design by George Dance the Younger, and James Lewis, took from 1805 to 1813. In 1833 Sir Charles Barry won the public competition to design a replacement. The library and portico of this building are all that remain today after a German incendiary bomb hit the College in 1941.

The exterior of the building was one of the filming location of Agatha Christie's Poirot episode The Mystery of the Spanish Chest.[4]

Hunterian Museum

In 1799 the government purchased the collection of John Hunter which they presented to the College. This formed the basis of the Hunterian Collection, which has since been supplemented by others including an Odontological Collection (curated by A E W Miles until the early 1990s) and the natural history collections of Richard Owen.

The Hunterian Museum is a member of The London Museums of Health & Medicine group, and displays thousands of anatomical specimens, including the Evelyn tables and the skeleton of the "Irish giant" Charles Byrne, surgical instruments, and paintings and sculptures about medical individuals and medicine.[5][6]


Medals, awards and lectures

The Cheselden Medal was instituted in 2009 in honour of William Cheselden "to recognise unique achievements in, and exceptional contributions to, the advancement of surgery". The award is made at irregular intervals to reflect the outstanding qualities required of recipients and is deemed one of the College’s highest professional honours.[7]

The Royal Colleges' Bronze Medal was instituted in 1957 and is awarded jointly with the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. It is awarded annually "on the nomination of the Medical Group of the Royal Photographic Society for the outstanding example of photography in the service of medicine and surgery".

The Wood Jones Medal was instituted in 1975 to commemorate Frederic Wood Jones (Sir William Collins Professor of Human and Comparative Anatomy and Conservator of the Anatomy Museum 1945-52). It is awarded occasionally (triennially until 1994) by a Committee "for contributions to anatomical knowledge or the teaching of anatomy in the tradition of Frederic Wood Jones".

The Clement-Price Award was founded in 1958 with a gift of 1,000 guineas from members of the staff of the Westminster Hospital in honour of Sir Clement Price Thomas. It is awarded triennially, or at such other interval as the President may decide, by the Council on the recommendation of the Fellowship Election and Prize Committee, "in recognition of meritorious contributions to surgery in its widest sense, without restriction of candidature".

The Lister Medal has been awarded since 1924 (mostly on a triennial basis), after the College was entrusted in 1920 with administrating the Lister Memorial Fund, in memory of pioneering British surgeon Joseph Lister. The award is decided in conjunction with the Royal Society, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Glasgow. In addition to being presented with a medal, the recipient delivers the Lister Oration at the College.

The Honorary Gold Medal was instituted in 1802 and is awarded at irregular intervals "for liberal acts or distinguished labours, researches and discoveries eminently conducive to the improvement of natural knowledge and of the healing art". Recipients to date include Sir Victor Negus, Sir Geoffrey Keynes, Sir Stanford Cade (all three in 1969), Professor Harold Ellis (1998), Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys (2002) and Dr Barry J. Marshall (2005).

The Bradshaw Lecture was founded in 1875 under the will of Mrs Sally Hall Bradshaw in memory of her husband, Dr William Wood Bradshaw. It is a biennial (annual until 1993) lecture on surgery, customarily given by a senior member of the Council on or about the day preceding the second Thursday of December. (Given in alternate years, with the Hunterian Oration given in the intervening years). Not to be confused with the corresponding Bradshaw Lectures delivered to the Royal College of Physicians. See Bradshaw Lecture for list of past lectures and lecturers.

The Hunterian Oration was founded in 1853 when a bequest was made by the executors of John Hunter's will, to provide for an annual dinner and oration in memory of the famous surgeon. It is now delivered biennially.

Educational history

Prior to 1820, to meet the requirements of London's College of Surgeons, students would spend time in London and select courses of instruction in surgery by teachers at Guy's Hospital, St Thomas' - together known as London's Borough Hospitals[8] - and as well as attend anatomy classes at private institutions such as William Hunter's anatomy school, attached for a time to Middlesex Hospital.[9] Although at this time some students of surgery had already acquired the M.D. (or its equivalent) qualification, it was not until the 1830s that students of surgery were required to have obtained a medical degree at a university before commencing studies for membership of the Royal College of Surgeons.[3][10] By the 1830s, medical schools in London at the University of London, St George's Hospital and King's College, London had been established and the influence of the private schools was diminished.[11]

Today, the RCS offeres a range of both on-line e-learning modules and hands-on practical workshops to facilitate the CPD for trainee and consultant surgeons across varies specialties.

Since May 2017, the RCS started to offer Postgraduate Certificate in Surgery to junior surgical trainee. This qualification combined e-learning modules and practical causes “offer surgical trainees a high-quality, flexible and interactive way to build their surgical knowledge and skills”[12] across different surgical specialties.

Current and past Presidents

NamePresidential term
Professor Derek Alderson July 2017 onwards[13]
Dame Clare Marx DBEJuly 2014 - July 2017 [14]
Sir Norman Stanley Williams2011–2014[15]
John Black2008-11[16]
Lord Bernard Ribeiro2005-08[17]
Hugh Phillips2004–05[18]
Sir Peter Morris2001-04[19]
Sir Barry Jackson1998-2001
Sir Rodney Sweetnam1995-98
Sir Norman Browse1992-95
Sir Terence English1989-92
Sir Ian Todd1986-89
Geoffrey Slaney1982-86
Sir Alan Parks1980-82
Sir Reginald Murley1977-80
Rodney Smith, Baron Smith1973-77
Edward Muir1972
Thomas Holmes Sellors1969-72
Hedley Atkins1966-69
Russell Brock, Baron Brock1963-66
Arthur Porritt, Baron Porritt1960-63[20]
James Paterson Ross1957-60
Harry Platt1954-57
Cecil Wakeley1949-54
Sir Alfred Webb-Johnson1941-48
Hugh Lett1938-40
Cuthbert Sidney Wallace1935-37
Holburt Jacob Waring1932-34
Berkeley Moynihan1926-31
Sir John Bland-Sutton1923-23
Anthony Alfred Bowlby1920-22
George Henry Makins1917-19
Sir William Watson Cheyne1914-16
Rickman Godlee1911–1913
Henry Trentham Butlin1909-11
Sir Henry Morris, 1st Baronet1906-08
John Tweedy1903-05
Sir Henry Howse1901-02
William MacCormac1896–1900
Christopher Heath1895
John Whitaker Hulke1893-94
Thomas Bryant1890-92
Jonathan Hutchinson1889
Sir William Scovell Savory1885-88
John Cooper Forster1884
John Marshall1883
Thomas Spencer Wells1882
William James Erasmus Wilson1881
John Eric Erichsen1880
Luther Holden1879
John Simon1878
John Birkett1877
Prescott Gardner Hewett1876
James Paget1875
Frederick Le Gros Clark1874
Thomas Blizard Curling1873
Henry Hancock1872
George Busk1871
William Fergusson1870
Edward Cock1869
Richard Quain1868
John Hilton1867
Richard Partridge1866
Thomas Wormald1865
Joseph Hodgson1864
Frederic Carpenter Skey1863
James Luke1862
Caesar Henry Hawkins1861
John Flint South1860
James Moncrieff Arnott1859
Joseph Henry Green1858
Edward Stanley1857
Benjamin Travers1856
William Lawrence1855
George James Guthrie1854
James Luke1853
Caesar Hawkins1852
John Flint South1851
James Moncrieff Arnott1850
Joseph Henry Green1849
Edward Stanley1848
Benjamin Travers1847
William Lawrence1846
Samuel Cooper1845
Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie, 1st Baronet1844
John Goldwyer Andrews1843
Anthony White1842
George James Guthrie1841
John Painter Vincent1840
Robert Keate1839
Honoratus Leigh Thomas1838
Sir Anthony Carlisle1837
Astley Paston Cooper1836
John Goldwyer Andrews1835
Anthony White1834
George James Guthrie1833
John Painter Vincent1832
Robert Keate1831
Richard Clement Headington1830
Honoratus Leigh Thomas1829
Sir Anthony Carlisle1828
Astley Paston Cooper1827
John Abernethy1826
William Lynn1825
William Norris1824
Henry Cline1823
William Blizard1822
Everard Home1821-22

Past Masters - Royal College of Surgeons

NameMagisterial term
Thompson Foster1820
Sir David Dundas1819
Thomas Keate1818
George Chandler1817
Sir James Earle1817
William Norris1816
Henry Cline1815
William Blizard1814
Everard Home1813
Thompson Foster1812
David Dundas1811
Sir Charles Blicke1810
Thomas Keate1809
George Chandler1808
Sir James Earle1807
Charles Hawkins1806
Thompson Forster1805
David Dundas1804
Sir Charles Blicke1803
Thomas Keate1802
George Chandler1801
William Long1800

Past Masters - Company of Surgeons

NameMagisterial term
Charles Hawkins1799–1800
James Earle1798
John Gunning1797
Isaac Minors1796
William Cooper1795
William Walker1794
John Wyatt1793
Samuel Howard1792
William Lucas1791
Charles Hawkins1790
John Gunning1789
Henry Watson1788
Edmund Pitts1787
Isaac Minors1786
Henry Watson1785
Joseph Warner1784
Richard Grindall1782-3
Peter Triquet1781
Joseph Warner1780
Fleming Pinkstan1779
Pennell Hawkins1778
Robert Young1776-77
Richard Grindall1775
Matthew Spray1774
Joseph Warner1773
John Pyle1772
Wentworth Gregory1770-71
William Bromfield1769
Benjamin Cowell1768
Robert Adair1767
Stafford Crane1766
Percivall Pott1765
Robert Young1764
John Blagden1763
John Townsend1762
David Middleton1761
Edward Nourse1760
Christopher Fullagar1759
Mark Hawkins1758
William Singleton1757
John Westbrook1756
Noah Roul1755
James Hickes1754
Legard Sparham1753
John Ranby1751-52
Peter Sainthill1749-50
Caesar Hawkins1748
John Freke1747
William Cheselden1746
John Ranby1745

See also


  1. Louis Kuo Tai Fu (2000)The origins of surgery. 2: From barbers to surgeons Annals of the College of Surgeons Hong Kong 4 (1), 35–49. doi:10.1046/j.1442-2034.2000.00029.x
  2. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 October 2006. Retrieved 16 October 2006.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link), page 118
  3. Loudon, I. (2000). "Why are (male) surgeons still addressed as Mr?". BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.). U.S. National Library of Medicine. 321 (7276): 1589–1591. doi:10.1136/bmj.321.7276.1589. PMC 1119265. PMID 11124190. the beginning of the 18th century, when physicians were distinguished by the possession of a university medical degree: an MD. Although many had acquired their MDs abroad with minimal effort or bought them for about £20 (about £800 today) from the University of Aberdeen or of St Andrews, the possession of a medical doctorate entitled physicians and no other medical practitioner to be addressed as “doctor.” Eighteenth century surgeons, who were of course addressed as Mr, seldom had any formal qualification except in the case of the few who were Members of the Company of Surgeons. After the founding of the Royal College of Surgeons of London in 1800, however, it was customary for surgeons to take the examination for Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons and put MRCS or MRCSL after their name.
  4. On Location with Poirot - The Mystery of the Spanish Chest
  5. "Medical Museums". Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  6. "Collections". Hunterian Museum. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  7. "Terms of reference for Fellowship, Election and Prize Committee". Royal College of Surgeons. Retrieved 21 August 2010.
  8. A Pupil of the Surgical School of Guy's and St Thomas's Hospital. "Divorce Of The Borough Hospitals". London Medical Gazette: Or, Journal of Practical Medicine. London Medical Gazette - 1837. p. 714. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  9. Thompson, H. (1935). "MIDDLESEX HOSPITAL SCHOOL CENTENARY (1835-1935)". British Medical Journal. Retrieved 16 March 2019. Hunter's school of anatomy was taken over by Sir Charles Bell in 1812, and became (by 1835) a medical school of Middlesex Hospital
  10. Aminoff, M. "Sir Charles Bell: His Life, Art, Neurological Concepts, and Controversial Legacy". Oxford University Press - 2016. ISBN 0190614978. Retrieved 15 March 2019.
  11. Aminoff, M. "Sir Charles Bell: His Life, Art, Neurological Concepts, and Controversial Legacy". Oxford University Press - 2016 page 165. ISBN 0190614978. Retrieved 15 March 2019. (page 167)..Prior to the 1820s, ...candidates for membership of the Royal College of Surgeons spent time in London selecting courses from (St Thomas' and Guy's Hospitals) and private anatomy schools
  12. sitecore\ "RCS to offer Postgraduate Certificate in Surgery — Royal College of Surgeons". Royal College of Surgeons. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  13. "Professor Derek Alderson elected as President of the Royal College of Surgeons".
  14. "First Female President Elected at the Royal College of Surgeons". Royal College of Surgeons of England. 10 April 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  15. "New President for Royal College of Surgeons". Royal College of Surgeons of England. 14 April 2011. Retrieved 18 April 2012.
  16. "New President for Royal College of Surgeons". Royal College of Surgeons of England. 10 April 2008. Retrieved 19 June 2009.
  17. "New President for Royal College of Surgeons". Royal College of Surgeons of England. 14 July 2005. Retrieved 19 June 2009.
  18. "Hugh Phillips". The Independent. London. 16 July 2005. Retrieved 19 June 2009.
  19. "New President for Royal College of Surgeons". Royal College of Surgeons of England. 7 July 2004. Retrieved 19 June 2009.
  20. G, H. H. (4 January 1994). "Lord Porritt". The Independent. London. Retrieved 19 June 2009.

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