Evidence of surgical practices have been in effect in parts of the world as far back as 8000+ years ago, possibly longer. However, medical schools as degree-awarding institutions are relatively more recent entity. Faimer.org’s worldwide medical school database shows that there are over 2,300 “recognized and operating medical schools” in nearly 180 countries, as of early Feb 2014. Here are 30 of the oldest medical schools.
The criteria here is as follows:
- The list includes only schools that are active and currently offering accredited medical degrees. Schools no longer in existence are thus left out.
- In the case of mergers of learning institutions, the oldest date is used provided it refers to some form of medical teaching.
- Medical institutions closed for more than 30 years are left out. (In some cases, during wars or occupations, relatively old universities were shut down for long periods.)
- Medical schools have been left out for which an official established date or date range could not be determined.
For example, as to the first criteria, the very first recorded medical school was the Schola Medica Salernitana, in Salerno, Italy — now defunct — which had its heyday from approximately the 11th to 13th centuries. The school is important in that it merged the knowledge of the Greek-Latin medical tradition with the Arabic and Jewish medical traditions of the time. Also, in addition to having female students, the school achieved much of its importance from books published by teachers there.
The majority of the following list references universities which were founded in the Medieval Period (500 AD – 1500 AD). While there are other active medieval-origin universities not listed here that have medical programs today, no conclusive founding dates for their medical school were available.
American medical schools do not make this list. The oldest such school is the School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, founded in 1765. All other existing American medical schools were founded after this date.
UNIVERSITY OF ZARAGOZA – FACULTY OF MEDICINE
Institute established: Sep 1542
Medical faculty established: Sep 1542
Location: Zaragoza, Spain
The University of Zaragoza had a long and difficult birth. There was an ecclesiastical school in Zaragoza as early as the 7th century, from which the University of Zaragoza had its beginnings. There was also a school of grammar and philosophy that existed in the 12th century, created and funded by a local church. A School of Arts is referenced as early as 1335, which earned a designation General School of Arts between 1474-76, as per authorization from Pope Sixtus IV in Dec 1474 and in Dec 1476, at the petition of Fernando, later King of Aragon. King Juan II of Aragon ratified the General School of Arts in Jan 1477.
However, due to various delays, it was not until Sep 1542 when the university existed de jure (in law), with permission from the King of Aragon to exist as a “general university of all disciplines” and could grant full degrees. Medicine was one of the original faculties formed in 1542. Papal Bulls of confirmation were later given in 1544 and 1555; however, due to lack of funds and various disagreements, the actual official de facto founding date is in May 1583, according to the university’s founding page. However, a chair of Theology and a chair of Poetry and Rhetoric (1503) were funded by the city government as early as 1500 and 1503, respectively.
Departments currently within the Faculty of Medicine include pathology, human anatomy, surgery, and several others — for a total of seven.
Notable alumni include pathologist / neuroscientist Santiago Ramon y Cajal, a Noble Prize winner in “Physiology or Medicine” who is is sometimes referred to as the father of modern neuroscience.
UNIVERSITY OF PAVIA – FACULTY OF MEDICINE AND SURGERY
Institute established: 1361
Medical faculty established: Before 1520
Location: Pavia, Italy
The origins of teaching in Pavia originate from 825 AD, when Emperor Lothair founded a school of higher education that taught rhetoric and law and existed into the 11th century. However, the university was founded as a Studium Generale in 1361 by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, with permission by Pope Boniface IX. Medicine was one of the original four faculties. Currently, there are three hospitals associated with the university, and there are a number of programs being taught in English, including a six-year degree in Medicine.
Notable alumni include Gerolamo Cardano, illegitimate son of a friend of Leonardo da Vinci, studied medicine at Pavia starting 1520. While later became a mathematician, he wrote over 200 works on many subjects including medicine, mathematics, physics, philosophy and more.
Notable faculty include: Giovanni Girolamo Saccheri, who contributed to the field of non-Euclidean geometry; physicist Alessandro Volta, credited with invention of the electric battery cell, and after whom the words volt, voltage and voltmeter are named; physician Antonio Scarpa, who has several body parts named after him, and whose head is on display at the Institute of Anatomy at Pavia; Nobel Laureate physician Camillo Golgi, whose name is used for various anatomical structures and physiological phenomena. Other associate Nobel Prize winners include physicist Carlo Rubbia and chemist Giulio Natta.
The university has awarded numerous honorary degrees, including one to Sir Roger Gilbert Bannister, a doctor and athlete who was the first to run a sub-four-minute mile.