Oral histories of medicine and health professionals

Black and white photograph of two nurses caring for a woman
Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

Our oral history collections cover many aspects of the history of medicine and medical professionals, including interviews with doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and physiotherapists.

About the collection


What is available online?

The Common Cold Unit Recordings consist of thirty four interviews conducted between 1994 and 1997 by Dr David Tyrell, recording the memories of those who worked at the Common Cold Unit in Salisbury from 1957 until its closure in 1990.  Those recorded include office staff, laboratory technicians, drivers, bacteriologists, microbiologists, dermatologists and virologists, and the interviews cover all aspects of the Unit's work, from details of research projects to office administration and volunteer management. The recordings also include references to the Air Hygiene Unit, Harvard Hospital, Wellcome Research and World Health Organisation.The collection is available online to Higher and Further Education institutions only via British Library Sounds

Observing the 1980s brings together, for the first time, 'voices' from both the Mass Observation Archive and the British Library's Oral History collections. This material offers a unique and inspiring insight into the lives and opinions of British people from all social classes and regions during the 1980s. The interviews from which the clips were selected for the 'Observing the 1980s' Open Education Resource are derived from collaborative oral history projects and include recordings with those involved in key events, such as the Falklands War, the Miners' Strike and the Brixton riots, as well as those reflecting on industry in the 1980s, unemployment and redundancy, and HIV and Aids. The interviews in their entirety are made available on British Library Sounds.

The Listening Project is available on British Library Sounds.   Initiated in 2012, The Listening Project is an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC. People are invited to share an intimate conversation with a close friend or relative, to be recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC and curated and archived in full by the British Library. These one-to-one conversations, lasting up to an hour and taking a topic of the speakers' choice, collectively form a picture of our lives and relationships today - some of these topics include health, sexuality, religion and belief. Edited excerpts from the collection are broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 4 and on local radio stations across the UK and Northern Ireland. 


What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Doctors

The Wellcome Trust Oral History of General Practice 1935-52 is a series of life story/career interviews carried out by Michael Bevan for a Wellcome Trust-funded project based at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine at Oxford University between 1992 and 1994.

Oral History of Geriatrics as a Medical Speciality is a collection comprised of 73 interviews carried out by Margot Jefferys and colleagues with geriatricians discussing the evolution of geriatric medicine as a medical specialty after the Second World War.

The Overseas Trained South Asian Geriatricians interviews is a collection comprising the interviews from an ESRC funded research project 'Overseas Trained South Asian Doctors and the Development of Geriatric Medicine', which interviewed working and retired South Asian geriatricians in order to explore their experiences and contribution to the development of the care of older people in the UK.

Wellcome Trust History of Medicine Course Oral History interviews contain interviews conducted by those attending Wellcome Trust courses on oral history and the history medicine since 1990.

An interview with leukaemia specialist George McDonald is included in National Life Story Collection: General Interviews. An interview with obstetrician and gynaecologist Josephine Barnes is included in the Leaders of National Life collection.

Nursing

The Andy Stevens Psychiatric Nursing Interviews were recorded as part of a doctorate focussing on an Essex psychiatric hospital, Essex Hall/Turner Village. Most interviewees are former employees (mainly nurses but also a psychiatrist), the oldest born in 1906.

Royal College of Nursing History Group interviews is a collection of 35 interviews with nurses from World War One onwards talking about their nursing careers and experiences.

The Hallam Nursing interviews document the arrival of women that came from Barbados to Britain to train as nurses in the 1950s.

The Kay Foster Gulf War recordings are the audio diaries of a major in the Royal Army Nursing Corps serving in the Gulf War 1990-1.

The AIDS Era: an oral history of UK healthcare workers is a collection of interviews with 61 healthcare workers who cared for patients at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s.

Pharmacy

Two collections conducted by Stuart Anderson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine focus on pharmacy: an Oral History of Hospital Pharmacy) is a series of 50 interviews with community pharmacists and chemists, whilst an Oral History of Community Pharmacy) comprises 50 interviews with community pharmacists and chemists.

Other pharmacy collections include the John Hunt pharmacists interviews, a collection of 13 interviews made with doctors, patients and pharmacists, conducted by John Hunt, archive interviewer for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.

Mental Health Professionals

Pioneers of Child Psychotherapy Recordings is a collection comprised of 22 interviews with founding members of the child psychotherapy movement in post–war Britain. The recordings document the development of child psychotherapy training and practice in the 1950s and 1960s.  Principal subjects include: training and training-schools, the Tavistock Clinic and Anna Freud Institute; relations between Kleinians and Freudians; institutional development in Child Psychotherapy, the establishment of the Association of Child Psychotherapy; clinical techniques; NHS and widening public access to psychotherapy.

An Oral History of Talking Therapists in the UK is a growing collection of life story interviews with key figures in the world of talking therapies. The interviews explored both the personal biographies of the interviewees and a wide range of themes including training, the day-to-day processes of therapeutic practice, ethical issues in the sector, the differences between NHS and private practice, and the future of the talking therapies. A future project will aim to interview a wide range of professionals who do not use pharmaceutical or other medical forms of intervention to alleviate mental distress but depend on verbal exchanges between client and therapist.

Interviews with psychiatrists are included in the Wellcome Trust Course Oral History Interviews collection and the Andy Stevens Psychiatric Nursing Interviews.

An interview with Anthony Storr, English psychiatrist and author, is also included in the Leaders of National Life  collection. Interviews relating to psychiatry can also be found in the Mental Health Testimony Archive.

Veterinary Practice

An Oral History of Veterinary Practice is an ongoing partnership project between Centre for Rural Economy (Newcastle University), the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Trust and National Life Stories. So far nine life story interviews documenting the history of veterinary practice have been deposited; the first interview with the late veterinary surgeon Mary Brancker is available in the Library Reading Roooms.

Related recordings

The Health Libraries Group Oral History Project is a collection of interviews with members of the Health Libraries Group, a forum for all members of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) including librarians and information workers in the NHS, voluntary organisations, public libraries,  universities, colleges and industry.

The Physiotherapists Interviews were recorded for a Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Oral History Project undertaken between July 1992 and August 1993 as part of its Centenary celebrations.  A follow up project was conducted by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists in 2013-2015 entitled the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Retirement Association Oral History Project.  A collection of 95 recordings covering the development professional practice within and out of the NHS, equipment used the advances in medical knowledge, and the development and impact of research within the profession.

For collections giving the patients' perspective, see personal health, mental health and disability. For more information on collections relating to medical science, see science and technology. For collections relating to reproductive health, see sexuality, reproductive health and prostitution.

Further information

See the collection guide to Oral History and webpages for National Life Stories: the oral history charitable trust based at the British Library.

Search the online Sound and Moving Image catalogue to retrieve detailed information for every oral history interview.  For more information on how to search the catalogue and listen to oral history recordings see our 'How to' guide. 

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom
oralhistory@bl.uk

How to guides

Search the catalogues for oral history recordings

A guide to seaching the catalogues for oral history recordings

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