Portrait of the medical student as a young man – caricatures, realism and airbrushed history, c.1825-1939.


Professor Jonathan Reinarz (University of Birmingham)


Portrait of the medical student as a young man – caricatures, realism and airbrushed history, c.1825-1939


Paper given at the symposium, ‘Medical training, student experience and the transmission of knowledge, c.1800-2014’, organised by Laura Kelly, at CHOMI, UCD, October 2014


Saint George's Hospital, London: the dissecting room with students and lecturers, including Henry Gray. Wellcome Images.

Saint George’s Hospital, London: the dissecting room with students and lecturers, including Henry Gray. Early 20th century. Wellcome Images.

The focus of historians of education has in recent years shifted from ‘top down’ to ‘bottom up’, concentrating on pupils rather than professors. As a result, historians of medical education now more regularly place the medical student at the centre of their studies, charting, for example, women’s entrance into medical schools, changes in students’ backgrounds and, most notably, their behaviour. Keir Waddington has specifically charted these changing perceptions of the medical student in Victorian London and suggests that these young scholars were being reinvented as part of doctors’ efforts in the nineteenth century to improve the status of their profession. As such, the image of the medical student slowly transformed from rowdy youths into professional medical gentlemen.

This paper seeks to augment this portrait of the medical student by exploring the culture of medical education in the English provincial schools from the Victorian period and into the twentieth century. While it has been suggested that rowdy young medics were gradually tamed during their years of medical instruction, this paper will consider the roles of protest, privilege and professionalization in fashioning particular images of medical students. Rather than suggest that provincial students were gradually professionalized in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this paper will argue that their image was carefully crafted, embellished and even repainted depending very much on the values and outlook of those who taught them.

Jonathan Reinarz


Professor Jonathan Reinarz, University of Birmingham

Professor Jonathan Reinarz is the Director of The History of Medicine Unit, University of Birmingham. He has published extensively on the history of hospitals and medical education, including a history of the Birmingham teaching hospitals (Boydell, 2009) and, with Graham Mooney (Johns Hopkins) a history of hospital and asylum visiting (2009). He has recently completed a history of smell (University of Illinois Press, 2014), and an edited collection on medical scandals (with Rebecca Wynter), entitled Complaints, Controversies and Grievances in Medicine (Routledge, 2015). He has also edited volumes on the history of workhouses (Rochester University Press, 2013), hospitals and communities (Peter Lang, 2013) and the medical history of skin (Pickering & Chatto, 2013). Jonathan is writing a history of medical education in provincial England and editing a volume in the Bloomsbury ‘Cultural History of Medicine’ series. His numerous book reviews have appeared in Social History of Medicine, Medical History, Isis, American Historical Review, Social and Cultural History, Women’s History Review, History, Twentieth Century British History, French History, Journal of British Studies, London Journal, CentaurusSenses and Society, Museum & Society, Midland History, Journal for the Society of Army Historical Research, Canadian Journal of History and Social History of Alcohol Review. Since 2001, he has presented academic papers at more than 100 seminars and conferences nationally and internationally. Most of these have subsequently been developed into publications.

Leave a Reply