Intended for healthcare professionals

Career Focus

Diploma in the History of Medicine (DHMSA)

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 12 November 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:s209
  1. Ann Ferguson, retired consultant anaesthetist
  1. Broadstairs, Kent annferguson{at}

Who is it for?

This is a postgraduate diploma which is undertaken mainly by doctors, medical students, and other healthcare professionals but also by people with an interest in the history of medicine—for example, Blue Badge guides.

When did you do it?

I did it the year after I retired, so I had plenty of time to attend the course run by the Society of Apothecaries and do the associated reading, as well as attending all the other lectures available on various aspects of medical history.

Why did you do it?

I did it for interest and fun. I have always been interested in the historical background of the practice of medicine, and this was the first chance I had to get the necessary grounding so that I would have a framework on which to base future work.

Did you go on a course?

Yes. Going on a recognised course is a requirement for the exam. I did the Society of Apothecaries course, which is the one most people do. It is an excellent course, held on Saturday mornings in London from September until June. Each week one or two lecturers gave a talk on their specialised subject. They were mainly doctors and historians. We were given reading tickets to the Wellcome library, and I was also given one to the British Library.

Meeting other students, particularly medical students, was a valuable part of the course and we were able to discuss our dissertations and swap reading lists.

How much effort did it entail?

A fair bit of time was required for studying and for researching and writing the dissertation. There are certain key textbooks that are required reading, but the subject is so vast and so interesting that the infinite number of specialist books can take up as much time as one cares to give.

Is there an exam?

Yes. The Diploma in the History of Medicine is in two parts. The first consists of two written papers, and this is followed several months later by the submission of a 5000 word dissertation, a test lecture, and a viva. The high pass rate is a reflection of the determination of the candidates who go to the trouble of putting themselves through the exam, not an indication that it is an easy exam.

Was it worth it?

It was worth all the effort and expense. I now have a basic grasp of the subject and knowledge of how to find out more. I have also met a lot of medical historians and know whom to approach for advice or help.

Contact for further information

The Registrar, Society of Apothecaries: tel 020 7236 1180, email examoffice{at}

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