Edinburgh World Heritage - The Doctor's Bag - William Cullen, 1710-1790, Physician

The Doctor's Bag - William Cullen, 1710-1790, Physician

William Cullen, a celebrity doctor, who was adored by his students. He had a good bedside manner and a nice little sideline in expensive consultations by post.

Even if you could afford a doctor in the 18th century, there was very little in the doctor’s bag to help with even the most basic complaints.

Edinburgh University helped to change this with its medical school and physicians like the brilliant William Cullen. Cullen was a charismatic lecturer whose investigations into disease and the medicines they required were presented as quests and adventures rather than lists of facts. Cullen helped Edinburgh Medical School become the leading medical school in the world.

He was a revolutionary teacher because he taught in English rather than Latin and he encouraged his students to ask questions based on their observations. Students had long days often working from 7am in the morning until after midnight.

Cullen also made his students examine their patients. This was unheard of in places like Oxford or Cambridge where touching a wound was just not done. He gave consultations by letter to people all over the world. These included a Russian princess and Samuel Johnson.

Why was he important?
-   He made Edinburgh the best place to study medicine in the world, with a 'hands on' teaching style.
-    What Cullen and others like him did which distinguished Scottish medicine was in advocating close observation of patients as well as thinking of the human body like a system.
-    For Cullen, being a doctor was just like being an engineer. Indeed Cullen worked on early ideas of refrigeration.

Things to do:
Prepare a healthy lifestyle exhibition in your school. Prepare leaflets, make and sell healthy snacks, demonstrate some useful exercises.

Dr Cullen wrote many letters of advice to his patients. These letters have recently been put online. What sort of complaints is he dealing with? What recommendations does he make? Try using a quill and ink to write your own letters. Read more...

The Royal College of Physicians or the Anatomy Museum

Curriculum Links: Health and Wellbeing, Language, Religious and Moral Education, Sciences, Social Studies, Technologies

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