University of Malta

UOM Main Page
Medical Museum

History of the Medical School

Attempts at introducing formal medical education in the Maltese Islands can be dated to the establishment of the first School of Anatomy and Surgery in Malta by Grandmaster Nicholas Cottoner in 1676 and further strengthened by the foundation of the Collegio Medico by Grandmaster Pinto in 1771 when a formal Faculty of Medicine and Surgery within a University structure was instituted. Previous to the 17th century, individuals wishing to pursue medical training would have received their education overseas, possibly after serving a period of apprenticeship locally before proceeding overseas to complete their education. By 1231, medical practice in Sicily and Malta were regulated by the Liber Augustalis promulgated by Frederick II of Sicily. These constitutions defined the medical curriculum of training preferring the teaching centres of Salerno or Naples.

On 19 October 1676, Grandmaster Nicolò Cottoner formalized medical teaching at the Sacra Infermeria by the appointment of Fra Dr Giuseppe Zammit as lettore in Anatomy and Surgery, while the School of Anatomy and Surgery was founded on the 19 December 1676 at the Grandmaster's expense. Instruction in theoretical anatomy and surgery was given to the barber-surgeons of the Sacra Infermeria and to all other youths who aspired to join the surgical profession provided that they could read and write. Later lectures in the surgical aspects of physiology, pathology, semiotics, hygiene and therapeutics were added to the curriculum. By 1682 the course in surgery lasted ten years. A set of rules governing the teaching of surgery and anatomy were published in 1729 and revised in 1739.


Entry record of Foundation of the School of Anatomy & Surgery dated 19th December 1676

The 17th century School of Anatomy and Surgery at the Sacra Infermeria served to impart the basic training to barber-surgeons; while promising individuals were sponsored by the Order to proceed to Universities overseas, generally France and Italy, to formally qualify as medical physicians and physician-surgeons. This arrangement ensured a steady supply of well qualified professionals sufficient to man the Order’s hospitals and serve the public service in Malta and Gozo. The situation changed in the latter part of the 18th century after GrandMaster Pinto de Fonceca expelled the Jesuit Order from Malta in 1768 and appropriated all the revenue accruing from its property in the Island with the aim of establishing a Pubblica Università di Studi Generali in the Collegium Melitense. The decree constituting the University was signed by Pinto on the 22 November 1769, having been authorised to do so by the papal brief Sedula Romani Pontific received on the 20 October 1769. The School of Anatomy and Surgery was expanded to include formal professional teaching with the establishment in 1771 of the Collegio Medico incorporated in the Pubblica Università.

Last Updated: 7 January 2010

Log In back to UoM Homepage