Oldest medical college in India

The year 1835 has a special bearing in the history of medical education in India. Two very prestigious and respected medical colleges of India, Calcutta Medical College, Kolkata and Madras Medical College, Chennai admitted students for the first time in 1835. The Calcutta Medical College was not only the first institute to teach modern medicine in India but also in Asia. In Mumbai, the first medical college was named after Sir Robert Grant, then Governor of Mumbai and the college started functioning in 1845. Agra Medical School was established in 1854 along side Thompson Hospital, this is today known as Sarojini Naidu Medical College & Hospital.

Previously in 1823, a medical college called the Ecole de Medicine de Pondicherry was established by the French government in Pondicherry. Later, in November, 1956 it was taken over by the Government of India, in the wake of the ‘de facto’ transfer of Pondicherry and rechristened as Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER).

Other reputed medical schools of the era were the Auxiliary Royapuram Medical School, Chennai (1877) and The King Edward Medical School, Indore (1878). Stanley Medical School, Chennai named after Sir Frederick Stanley started working from March 27, 1917. Its predecessor was known as Royapuram School (1913). The credit of establishing the first dental college in India goes to Dr. Rafuddin Ahmed who founded the college in Calcutta in 1928 from his own earning and real hard work.

King George’s Medical College and Hospital was opened to the patients in October 1911, though the idea to have a medical college in Lucknow was first floated in 1870 by the Maharaja of Vijanagaram. One of the most beautiful building of the time King George’s Medical College was designed by Sir Swinton Jacob and the features were designed in the Indo-Saracenic style in keeping with royal buildings of this capital of Oudh and with the Imambara or Tomb of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah, which stands immediately besides the College and which dates back to 1784.

The Gordhandas Sunderdas Medical College and the King Edward Memorial Hospital arose as a counter to British managed hospitals in 1926. The most important condition of the endowment was that all members of the teaching faculties should be well qualified Indians. Dr. Jivraj Mehta was its first dean. Prince Of Wales Medical College was founded in the year 1925 in Patna, with 35 students on the rolls. 

Some of the old college buildings still exist with beautiful murals and architecture, depicting an old world charm. Its a pity they are not preserved and are making way for more modern buildings. The image is from Madras Medical College in 1886.

 Medical Education and women

The participation of women in medicine started as early as 1880 when Fanny Butler became the first British woman to practice medicine in India. She served as a member of the Church of England (Zenana Missionary Society) and carried out pioneering work among Indian women. The next milestone came in 1885 when the Countess of Duffertin’s Fund was created to bring women doctors to India and to open women’s hospitals and wards, and to train Indian women in Medicine.

Before this, Madras Medical College had already become a trendsetter and admitted women students for the first time in India in 1875, when only one institution in US was open for women and none was opened in Europe. Soon after Calcutta Medical College started admitting women in 1885 and in 1887 Grant Medical College, Mumbai followed the suite.

 Madras Medical College had the privilege of producing four fully trained women doctors in 1878. They were Mary Scharleib, D White, D Mitchell and B Beate. Interestingly, a special scholarship of Rs 20 was awarded to every woman candidate for her five years’ studies in Medical College.

Subsequently, Dr. Edith Mary Brown and her colleagues started the North Indian School of Medicine for Christian Women in 1894, which today is known as Christian Medical College, Ludhiana. Special mention is due to Christian Medical College, Vellore, which was started in 1900 by  Ida Scudder as a one bed Clinic. Later, she started a school for compounders (1903), a school for nurses (1909) and finally a medical school for women in 1918. One of the first graduates from Cornell Medical School, USA, Scudder, set up the institute in India as a response to the health needs of the local people, particularly women and children, which today is one of the most well-known hospitals in India.

Lady Willingdon Medical School for Women founded in 1923 in Chennai and Lady Harding Medical College, Delhi, founded in 1916 are among the oldest women’s medical college in the country.

Historically, in 1907, the Association of Medical Women in India was founded under the leadership of Dr. Annetie Benson of the Cama & Albless Hospital in Mumbai. In 1938, the first All-India Conference of Medical Women convened at Delhi — the principal subjects addressed included anemia and eclampsia.

Women were very progressive in the field of medicine in pre-independent India. Sadly the momentum did not continue post-Independence.

The Native Medical Institution started in 1822 in Calcutta. Babus used to joke – “your son became FRCS Calcutta”. One British alone tried huge to run it in that way, he got fed up & ultimately that closed it in 1835 which basically continued as Calcutta Medical College. The reason of joking was Anatomy, medicine and surgery books were translated from English, old Indian surgical history added & there was no dissection. In Sanskrit college Anatomy class were taken after math class. Despite the jokes, it did the work of testing. It was decided to start dissection in Calcutta first & build another medical college at Madras. 

L’école de médecine de Pondichery had no full course in the initial phase. It is over promoted as first. It had more role in International Medicine.

Both, Calcutta Medical College & Madras Medical college were first standard medical colleges. One of the first female doctor in this World passed from Madras Medical College. Madras Medical College’s hospital dates back to 1664. Calcutta Medical College offered the exact course like that of England plus dissection. Bhodrolok class could read this college but still usually went to England. To only show it is good, many peoples took the course lol 

That year it was decided to start 20 medical colleges within the next 20 years. It is never possible to list more than first 5 with 100% accuracy. Number of Goverment medical colleges before 1947 was not less.

Stanley Medical College (1830) had unofficial dissection system for Indians trained in Europe, possibly for practice of dissection. 

Somewhat list : 

  1. The Native Medical Institution (1822), Calcutta
  2. L’école de médecine de Pondichery (1823), Pondichery
  3. Medical College (1835), Calcutta
  4. Escola Médico-Cirúrgica de (Nova) Goa (1838), Goa
  5. Madras Medical College (1835), Chennai
  6. Stanley Medical College (1838 -39) 
  7. Grant Medical College (1845), Mumbai 
  8. Osmania Medical College (1846), Hyderabad 
  9. Sarojini Naidu Medical College, Agra (1854)
  10. Lahore Medical College (1860), Lahore (King Edward Medical University)
  11. Government Medical College (1864), Amritsar
  12. Campbell Hospital, 1873 (NRS Medical College), Calcutta

15 August 2022 marked the 75th anniversary of Indian independence from British rule. Since independence, the Indian medical diaspora has successfully settled in countries around the world and contributed greatly to their health care systems. Outside India, few are familiar with the history of modern Indian medicine. India was long famous for its Ayurvedic system of medical practice, still influential amongst some of the population and available in many parts of the country. Modern hospitals providing Western medicine, however, started in the nineteenth century.

The oldest medical training establishment in India, the École de Medicine de Pondicherry, was set up in 1823 by the French. It was one of the first medical schools of Western medicine in Asia and had a particular expertise in tropical medicine, as well as having medical and surgical departments. The instructors were French naval staff, and students were granted diplomas that enabled them to practice in the French colonies. In 1956, the Indian government took over the college, and for a short time it was known as Dhanvantri Medical College. The college was moved to the outskirts of town and renamed after the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, on 13 July 1964 by the president of India, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.

Entrance with pillars labeled "MED[I]CAL COLLEGE HOSPITAL" (the "I" is worn off) with two gates underneath. A bird sits on top of the entrance's peak while merchants sell their wares outside.

Fig 2. Calcutta Medical College and Hospital main entrance. Photo by Billjones94 on WikimediaCC BY-SA 4.0.

The second oldest medical school in India was the Medical College of Calcutta, also known as Kolkata Medical College, established on 28 January 1835 during the era of the British Raj by Lord William Bentinck, the first governor general of India. Bentinck was also involved in introducing English as the language of instruction in India. Calcutta, in the eastern part of India, was the capital city under the British Raj from 1773–1911. Students were admitted to this public institution regardless of caste or creed. Instruction was provided in Western medicine in the Medical College Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in West Bengal. The curriculum was based on those of the teaching hospitals and medical schools in the UK. The first principal was Mountford Joseph Bramley, an assistant surgeon in the East India Company who was interested in diseases of the thyroid and who sadly died young, aged only 34. Famous alumni of the medical school included Bidhan Chandra Roy, who became the chief minister of Bengal from 1948–1962; Pasupati Bose, a revered professor of anatomy; Ram Yadav, the first president of Nepal; and Kamaleshwar Mukherjee, an acclaimed actor, writer, and director of Bengali films. Sir Upendranath Brahmachari, twice nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine, was also an alumnus and was famous for synthesizing carbostibamide in 1922 to treat visceral leishmaniasis.

Exterior view of a long two-story tan building with some passersby

Fig 3. Madras Medical College today. Photo by VtTN on WikimediaCC BY 3.0.

The year 1835 also saw Madras Medical College in southern India admit medical students for the first time. Sir Frederick Adams, the governor of Madras, opened the school on 2 February 1835. Interestingly, a government hospital for treating soldiers from the East India Company had existed from 1664 at Fort St. George, but medical instruction began in 1835 at the general hospital. In 1875, Mary Ann Dacomb Scharlieb was one of the first women in the world to be admitted to medical school, a fact the Madras Medical College is particularly proud of. Scharlieb’s husband was a British lawyer in Madras. She went on to help establish the Royal Victoria Hospital for Caste and Gosha Women in Madras, now called the Government Kasturba Gandhi Hospital for Women and Children. “Gosha” was a term used to describe women in a social state of isolation, or purdah. She was also the first woman to be awarded the postgraduate medical qualification MD from the University of London in 1888.

Medical school numbers expanded during the nineteenth century and continued after independence. India now has over 500 medical schools.


  1. “Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_College_and_Hospital,_Kolkata.
  2. “Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medicine and Research.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jawaharlal_Institute_of_Postgraduate_Medical_Education_and_Research.
  3. “Madras Medical College.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madras_Medical_College.

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