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History of Medical Education at King's

Teaching medical students is something that is deeply embedded in the history of the institutions with which the current GKT (Guy’s Kings and St Thomas’) School of Medical Education is associated.   Perhaps the earliest trace is to be found in the records of the hospice on the site of the current Southwark Cathedral, in the form of an invoice “for the teaching of medical students” dating from the 16th century.   From almost the start of the story, there is a series of mergers and de-mergers, as institutions sought arrangements which were more suitable for the time and circumstances.

Developing from a hospice run by monks, St Thomas’ Hospital developed on one side of St Thomas’ Street in Borough at the southern end of the old London Bridge, and in due course, Mr Thomas Guy established his hospital on the other side of the street.   Although initially these two establishments collaborated in educating doctors, this arrangement broke down and they became spirited competitors.   The arrival of the railway in the mid 19th century constraining the buildings both physically and environmentally (noise and smoke), at a time when Florence Nightingale was influencing the move towards “healthier” buildings, provoked the move of St Thomas’ to the clay marshes of Lambeth (!) leaving Guy’s where it was.   Both of their companion Hospital Medical Schools became associated with the University of London, and were joined by the Royal Dental School over time, and formally joined together in academic union once more as UMDS (the United Medical & Dental Schools) in 1982; over some time, the institutions also had become more formally separate from the hospitals in which they had grown, as those hospitals became NHS Trusts.   UMDS existed for many years as a combined entity whilst the two hospitals were entirely separate from each other until they themselves merged to form GSTT (Guy’s & St Thomas’)in 1995.

From its establishment in 1834 King’s College London had trained medical students, using a local ex-workhouse in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, quickly building a new hospital there in its own name.   Just before the First World War, a new and technologically advanced hospital was built in the suburbs in Camberwell, and a “clinical” medical school set up there, which separated from the College in the Strand and became an independent entity within the federated University of London, but they rejoined in 1983 becoming KCSMD (King’s College School of Medicine and Dentistry).    

In the latter part of the 20th century, UMDS and King’s College London grew closer together – the former seeing the advantage of being part of a multi-faculty institution, and the latter recognising the range of medical training and research at UMDS, which took twice as many students as KCSMD;  they formally merged in 1998, with the Medical School known initially as GKT, soon becoming King’s College London School of Medicine.   Then, in 2013 the School of Medicine merged with Biosciences, and the GKT School of Medical Education was redefined as one component of an enlarged Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine, and once more emphasised its origins in its name.   Our major partner NHS Trusts (GSTT, King’s College Hospital, Lewisham and Greenwich Trust, South London & Maudsley, and Oxleas) and many hundreds of local GP practices provide the clinical placements and teachers for our students throughout the course, joined by many other NHS Trusts across Kent, Surrey and Sussex, and GPs throughout the UK, in the senior years of the programme.   Many other teachers in the School are also active researchers and/or educationalists, and we have had strong links with non-medical faculties in King’s providing opportunities for students to study other subjects alongside medicine.

We have had a close relationship with our local (South Thames) Foundation School which takes many of our graduates for the start of their postgraduate training as junior doctors, although our graduates go to every Foundation School throughout the UK.   From the mid 1990s, a strong emphasis on the teaching of Clinical and Communications Skills (Prof Sir Cyril Chantler, Principal of UMDS, was an important innovator), and the value associated with a strong programme of Student Selected Components (including those from non-medical faculties in King’s) meant that our graduates have been noted for their strong Human Values, and their ability and confidence with patients.   Alumni of GKT continue to support the School, return to posts in our partner NHS Trusts and teach our students, who themselves are proud of the long history and reputation of their School.