October 1 1815: Keats Enrolls in Guy’s Hospital

“When Keats was 14 years old he was apprenticed to the family’s doctor, Thomas Hammond. In the summer of 1810 Keats moved in above Hammond’s surgery in Edmonton, North London. While an apprentice, Keats would have performed such tasks as making up medicines, cleaning the surgery, preparing leeches (blood-sucking worms that were used to bleed patients), and bookkeeping; as he progressed he may have moved on to dressing wounds, drawing teeth and visiting the sick.He seems to have left before his apprenticeship was completed, but he had done enough to satisfy the requirements of the 1815 Apothecaries Act, which came in while Keats was in the next stage of his training at Guy’s Hospital. Keats entered Guy’s Hospital as a student on 1 October 1815 and, with incredible speed, was promoted to the role of ‘dresser’ on 29 October 1815, less than a month after he had arrived at the hospital and just before he turned 20. The Apothecaries Act had come into force on 12 July 1815, and was an attempt to regulate and professionalise apothecaries. To be allowed to practise, there was now a required minimum degree of training and an exam. Keats had done enough of his apprenticeship, the requisite six months of hospital training, and then passed the difficult exam (which his two housemates failed). He qualified for his apothecary licence on 25 July 1816.

Keats’s six months of hospital training were gruelling and expensive. He had lectures every day Monday to Saturday at 10am; he also joined hospital rounds; at 2pm he would be in the operating theatre at St Thomas’s observing an operation; and at 4pm he would dissect the corpses and body parts brought to the hospital by grave robbers.[4] Nicholas Roe tells us that there were as many as 200 students dissecting simultaneously and that ‘the stench of rotten flesh was overwhelming’; there was a very real danger of infection too.”

 — excerpt from John Keats, Poet-physician by Sharon Ruston

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