The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

The First Medical College in America

William J. Shippen, Jr., 1736 - 1808

Original image in: Philadelphia General Hospital, Photographs. PGH, Box 21, #13. (Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia)

The influence of the Hunterian model of education was felt in the American colonies with the founding of the first medical school in the United States.

The College of Philadelphia, which was founded in 1755, was the site of the first medical college in the colonies. The College, and its sister institutions the Academy and the Charity School of Philadelphia, was the brainchild of Benjamin Franklin, who sought to create non-sectarian institutions to educate the new generation of businessmen and entrepreneurs, rather than clergy. This emphasis on the training of a professional class provided the philosophical under-girding for the creation of a professional medical college.

So important was the function of anatomy in medical education that one of the first faculty positions created in 1765 at the new medical department of the College of Philadelphia was Professor of Anatomy and Surgery. William Shippen, Jr. (1736-1808) was the first physician to hold this position after offering a series of lectures on anatomy in Philadelphia since 1762.

Shippen's education was typical of many young physicians in the colonies. After receiving his A.B. from what is now Princeton University, Shippen apprenticed under his father, William Shippen, Sr., and then studied under Drs. John and William Hunter in London, and under Alexander Monro at the University of Edinburgh, from which he received a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1761.

Shippen was also a founding member of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which was founded in 1787.