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Museum Profile – Surgeons Hall Museums
Introducing our venue for AIM National Conference 2023.
Surgeons’ Hall Museums are owned by The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd) and consist of the Wohl Pathology Museum, the History of Surgery Museum, The Dental Collection and the Body Voyager galleries.
The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh was founded in 1505, with the Museums’ collections growing significantly from 1699 after ‘natural and artificial curiosities’ were publicly sought. In the 1800s, the original museum expanded to include the remarkable collections of the surgeon Sir Charles Bell and anatomist, John Barclay. The museum has been in its current home in the A-Listed building designed by William Playfair on Nicolson Street since 1832.
Originally developed as a teaching museum for students of medicine, Surgeons’ Hall Museum’s fascinating collections, including bone and tissue specimens, surgical instruments and works of art, have been open to the public since 1832, making Surgeons’ Hall one of Scotland’s oldest museums. The Wohl Pathology Museum is also home to one of the largest and most historic collections of surgical pathology in the world.
With support from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2014, the Museums underwent a major redevelopment called The Lister Project. The Lister Project was an initiative by RCSEd that focused on the College’s heritage and helped create a new and enhanced public space within the Museums to inform and share with visitors the historical journey of surgery and its advances.
The History of Surgery Museum explores Edinburgh’s unique contribution to surgical practice. It also highlights the College’s connection with Joseph Bell, the man credited as the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, as well as tracing the history of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh from its inception in 1505 to the present day. Visitors also learn about the notorious murderers Burke and Hare and discover how dissection was used as a punishment.
In 2021 the museum underwent further expansion when it opened its Body Voyager galleries. Body Voyager explores the rise in robotic and computer-assisted surgery. Surgeons’ Hall have worked with several surgical companies including Intuitive Surgical Inc, Freehand Surgical, Stryker and B, Braun to showcase the advancement in equipment used by surgeons, from the first pieces of robotic equipment used in the operating theatre to some of the most up-to-date, high tech instruments in use today. Body Voyager gives visitors the opportunity to use one of the most advanced pieces of robotic equipment in the surgical world for themselves. Intuitive Surgical Inc have kindly donated a da Vinci Surgeon Console with a bespoke programme that will allow users to experience what it is like to use the equipment.
The core team at Surgeons’ Hall is fairly small, with 15 members of staff. The museum has a successful events programme which is released quarterly and includes lectures, art workshops, dissections, performances and walking tours. The learning team offers several workshops for both primary and secondary schools and welcomes education groups from all over the world! As an independent museum we rely on admission charges from tickets for our income. In 2013, the last full year before the refurbishment, the museum had 35,785 visitors. However, the visitor numbers have boomed since the refurbishment – 2022 was the busiest year ever with 88,105 visitors! The start of 2023 has seen more record-breaking visitor numbers and, if this rise continues, 2023 will be the busiest year to date!