It is not known exactly when a formal program for teaching medical sciences was established at the University of Oxford, but it is likely that there was some form of organised curriculum from the early 1300s. The Chancellor’s Book from this period states that to achieve a license to teach medicine, a student had to be awarded a Master of Arts degree, study medicine for a further six years, undergo practical training, and then lecture for a further two years once licensed – a demanding process that will seem familiar to medical students even today!
Title page of a Rosa Anglica. Image © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, c. 1448-1455, MS. Bodl. 362, fol. 001r
However, it had its rewards – doctors who trained at Oxford seem to have enjoyed prestige because they were frequently employed as royal physicians. Oxford’s first known teacher of medicine, Nicolas Tingewick (d. 1339), was doctor to Edward I, and his student John of Gaddesden (c. 1280 – 1361) treated both Edward III and his son the Black Prince. Gaddesden was the author of England’s earliest surviving medical textbook, the Rosa Anglica, and one of the leading medical authorities of his day; many believe him to have been the model for Chaucer’s ‘Doctour of Phisik’ in The Canterbury Tales, who is described as ‘a verray parfit praktisour’ (a very good practitioner)!