Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

The Polish Medical School at Edinburgh University, 1941–1949

Howard Fischer
Uppsala, Sweden

Students of the Polish Medical School (Polskiego Wydziału Lekarskiego). Via Wikimedia. 

“…an affirmation that science can be international…”
– Surgeon Antoni Jurasz (1882–1961), dean of the Polish Medical School

After the Nazi army invaded Poland, the remnants of the Polish military evacuated to France. When France was invaded in the summer of 1940, the Polish forces were sent to Scotland to participate in the defense of the British Isles from an anticipated German invasion. Among the Poles, there were physicians, medical students, and refugee Polish medical professors. The Germans had closed all schools and universities in Poland. Professors were killed or sent to concentration camps. The Nazi goal was to make Poland an “intellectual desert.”

Courses were organized at Edinburgh University to keep the Polish military doctors in Scotland occupied and up-to-date. Also, the Polish army needed more physicians. With the cooperation of the British government and the Medical Faculty of Edinburgh University, A Polish Medical School (PMS) was established in Edinburgh. Scotland and Poland had a long, fruitful history of cooperation. During the Reformation, 30,000 Scots fled to Poland. In the late seventeenth century, they were significant trading partners. Polish students came to Edinburgh to study beginning in the eighteenth century.

Polish physicians made up the majority of the professors at the PMS, and Edinburgh professors were fewer than one fourth of the 30-member faculty. Teaching staff had to be approved by Edinburgh University. Teaching in Polish, whenever possible, was necessary, since most of the Polish doctors had limited knowledge of English. Tuition at the PMS was paid by the Polish government-in-exile in London.

Of the 330 students enrolled in the PMS, 227 received their Polish medical degree and joined (or rejoined) the Polish military forces. The medical and nonmedical communities of Scotland gave “great support” to the Polish refugees, who appreciated this “most generous act of hospitality.” Scotland also saved lives by granting asylum to German Jewish physicians fleeing the Third Reich. Between 1934 and 1945, 352 of these refugee doctors were permitted to take the Scottish Medical Licensing Test. No other part of the UK, or of the world, came close to this “extraordinary example of solidarity, humanism, and integration of refugees.”

In 1946, thirty-three third-year medical students were transferred to other medical universities in the UK, leaving only fourth- and fifth-year students. The school closed in 1949. The PMS produced 100 published medical articles during its existence. Only eighteen PMS graduates (8%) returned to Poland, which was by then a satellite state of the USSR. About half stayed in the UK, and the rest went to Australia, Canada, and the US. Dean Jurasz tried to find a new home, not in Poland, for the PMS. He made contacts in the US, the territory of Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and several nations in the West Indies. These possibilities all failed. He was persona non grata in postwar Poland, and left for the US in 1947. He practiced first at St. Clare’s Hospital in Denville, New Jersey, and later in New York.


  • “Polish School of Medicine.” Wikipedia.
  • Jacob Rostowski. “Polish School of Medicine University of Edinburgh 1941–1949.” British Med J, May 28, 1966.
  • W.A. Wojcik. “Time in context—The Polish School of Medicine and Paderewski Polish Hospital in Edinburgh, 1941 to 1949.” Proc R Coll Physicians Edinburgh, 31, 2001.
  • Antoni Jurasz. “The foundation of the Polish medical Faculty within the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.” Proc R Soc of Med, 35 (133), 1941.
  • “Antoni Jurasz (Mediziner, 1882).” Wikidata.de-de.nina.az
  • Ulf Högberg. Vita rockar och bruna skjortor. Nazimedicin och läkare på flykt. Malmö (Sweden): Universus Press, 2013.

HOWARD FISCHER, M.D., was a professor of pediatrics at Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan.

Spring 2024



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