Volunteers' Week 2024

This Volunteers' Week we celebrate the amazing contributions volunteers make to the RCP Museum, Heritage Library and Archives. 

Emily in the archives
Emily in the archives

Emily, Archives volunteer

My name is Emily Woessner and I have been a volunteer at the RCP archive since October 2023. I joined the team with prior archival experience thanks to internships and volunteer opportunities at a few US-based archives, museums, and institutions. I sought out the RCP to gain experience in a UK-based archive and learn about medical history in the process. Volunteering here has helped me re-discover my passion for learning about all sorts of history by caring for the physical records of the people who lived it and making those records accessible to the public.

To this end, I have been fortunate to help make accessible 38 digitized copies of the fascinating medical recipe books physically housed at the RCP now digitally housed in the RCP’s Manuscript collection on the Internet Archive. The work entailed learning to use the Internet Archive, the RCP’s Axiell catalogue, and a bit of Adobe Photoshop. In the process I collated, uploaded, and QC’d medical recipe books spanning from the 15th to the 19th centuries. I concluded my work with the recipe books by writing a post for the RCP’s blog to highlight their arrival on the Internet Archive. The highlight of the project for me was gaining a sense of the care and effort put into the creation of these books. I acquired a newfound understanding for how people throughout history have endeavoured to heal themselves and those in their care.

My current project has me updating the Axiell catalogue for the deceased fellows of Munk’s Roll to ensure the records are complete, accurate, and helpful. I am also scanning and uploading photographs of the fellows to their respective entries in the Inspiring Physicians section of the RCP’s website. This work allows me brief glimpses into the lives of past physicians and ensures that their legacies at the RCP are remembered and respectfully recorded. I look forward to continuing this project and am thankful to the wonderful RCP AMS team who week after week are always happy to share their time and knowledge with me. It truly makes my volunteer experience meaningful and enjoyable.

Sarah Wigges' book.
Sarah Wigges' book

Ana, Archives volunteer

As part of my MA Archives and Records Management course at UCL, I underwent a two-week placement at the RCP in May 2023. I got so much out of this experience that I carried on volunteering and I am still enjoying my time here a year later! Volunteering at the RCP has been such a valuable experience in so many ways and has played a huge role in my personal realisation that a career as an archivist is the right path for me.

I love how much variety there is here: during my time volunteering, I have worked on projects across a vast range of timeframes and topics. My current task is cataloguing the RCP’s WW2 evacuation plans for items from RCP’s library, which looks at all of the different locations that the RCP arranged to send their most precious items to protect them during war time. My task before that was helping to transcribe a couple of pages from midwife Sarah Wigges’s recipe book from 1616. Transcribing is something which I haven’t had much experience doing, but it was really rewarding to get the hang of the process the more I worked on it, and it was worth the effort to see Sarah Wigges’s fascinating methods to help mothers in childbirth. In particular, her note stressing that this information should be kept secret so that men could not exploit the knowledge for their own gain!

I have also been able to work on my practical skills, including cataloguing, using the Axiell database, collections care and packaging, accessioning and retention schedules, and even the behind-the-scenes of exhibitions and events. I have loved getting to experience all these different elements in such a warm, friendly environment, and the team have been so kind and generous with their time and knowledge. I am excited to continue learning at the RCP and I definitely recommend volunteering here!

Hannah, Heritage Library volunteer

There wasn’t a day I didn't enjoy while doing my placement at the RCP!  I have always been a bit of a medical history nerd, and a nerd in general.  And it was amazing to find that I could share my enthusiasm with all the archive, heritage library and museum team. 

But there was also the history part and oh, man! It’s hard to pick a best or favorite part!   I think the part that was most moving was when doing my own independent research on Alan Nabarro, whose objects and papers I was able to investigate.  Alan was one of the first people with diabetes to be treated with insulin in the UK, and (it seems) the first in the UK to live more than 50 years with the disease. There is an award named after him today! 

When Alan was 7 years old he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and given six months to live. When things became incredibly dire his uncle managed the impossible task of getting him insulin and saving his life. Alan went from being doomed to die as a small child to a man who lived a full life: he got married, he had kids, he kept himself healthy, was a member, officer, and advocate of now Diabetes UK, he traveled the world, he got an O.B.E. for his work for diabetes awareness and to counter the discrimination people with the disease faced.

After he died his children donated his diabetes ephemera to the Royal College of Physicians.  And then, nearly 50 years later, I got to go back through his personal effects, into a life so extremely well-lived through the speeches, interviews, photos, letters and charts left behind. 

Yvonne, Heritage Library volunteer

Having had the good fortune of being introduced to the beautiful Dorchester heritage library during the Open House Festival back in 2018, the RCP was at the top of my wish list when I started seeking out opportunities to gain hands-on experience in librarianship and archival work. I have been lucky enough to spend the last four months learning the ropes under the guidance of Katie Birkwood, rare books and special collections librarian, within the hugely encouraging Archives, Heritage library and Museum (AMS) team.

Coming from a corporate background, it has been eye-opening to witness the AMS team in action and punching well above its “weight” (operational size!): learning first-hand how individual specialists facilitate and support researchers and how the team works together to curate and host the monthly “Museum Late” exhibitions. I have particularly enjoyed researching 16th-18th century recipe books and household management guides for an upcoming exhibition as it gave me the chance to pore over delicate illustrations of cultivated gardens and intricate etchings of scientific gadgetry. I was surprised by the scientific processes that were being carried out within the domestic setting in that period, and I can’t wait to see the exhibition when it opens in September.

At the moment, when I’m not auditing the oversized tracts catalogue, you will find me making my way through the dusty tomes of the Dorchester with the conservation-grade hoover - desperately trying to resist the urge to sit down with my latest discovery within the extraordinarily diverse collection, with Pennant’s shells and Machiavelli’s works being the most recent examples! I love seeing visitors light up when they step into the Dorchester and I’m looking forward to helping the AMS team in its ongoing efforts to preserve and promote this valuable resource.


Asmaa digitising a new ECG machine
Asmaa digitising a new ECG machine

Asmaa, Museum Volunteer

I have been volunteering at the RCP since March 2024, where I have gained a great deal of practical skills and experience in working with a different types of collections. I have been cataloguing and photographing new accessions of medical diagnosis tools. The stories behind the objects and their historical use as medical treatment has been an astonishing experience. Volunteering at the RCP is a great opportunity for me, focusing on collections management as part of my professional development plan.

I have catalogued and photographed objects including bone biopsy drills and an ECG machine that date back to the early 20th century, which helped diagnose and monitor conditions affecting the heart through measuring its electrical activity. The next steps are to label the objects with the catalogue number, pack, and store them. I have enjoyed working on this part of the collection and meeting new people, and I am very excited about getting involved in further work.

Holly, Museum volunteer


Hi I’m Holly and I have been a museum volunteer for over a year. I have gained so much knowledge, and, with the help of the supportive museum team, learnt an abundance of skills.

After finishing my first project, digitising the Pye-Smith scrapbook to make it more accessible, I have worked on various other projects, allowing me to learn new skills and see other parts of the museum. Before the Fortitude exhibition I worked on transcribing some of the oral testimonies from doctors. This allowed me to see some of what creating an exhibition entails. I contributed to the project to decolonise the collections, ensuring any outdated language was removed in the descriptions and adding more detail. This allows the story of the people and objects in the collections to be further explored. It required researching the items, which was very interesting, making summarising for a brief description; a challenge at the beginning. I have enjoyed working with other volunteers on the rehousing project, where we work together to remove prints from their old acidic card mounts, put them into their archival enclosures, and photograph them so they are accessible on the catalogue.

I have really appreciated working on different projects and learning more about what happens behind the scenes in the museum from the team. 

Cartoon of Dr James Manby Gully.
Cartoon of Dr James Manby Gully

Yu Shih, Museum volunteer

This is my second year of volunteering at the RCP museum. There have been some changes around here and some remain the same. My main job in the museum is to rehouse and photograph the prints. I digitise photos that either myself or other volunteers have taken, to ensure that the public has access to them in the future.

This year, I have had some opportunities to encounter more varied work like de-installing a display and researching a collection of Old St Thomas’s Hospital photos. The Open Day event was also striking,  since that was my first time teaching people about medical history with object handling.

Circling back to my main volunteering work in the museum, one of the things I currently find interesting is the connection between my recent research and the medical history of phrenology. I happened to take a photo of the print of a physician (Dr James Manby Gully) from the magazine, Vanity Fair and saw that he had devoted his career to phrenology. Phrenology was a racist pseudo-science, and hundreds of years later, has had lasting consequences for issues such as the repatriation of human remains from museum collections. This makes me want to find out more information about this.


Read our weekly library, archive and museum blog to learn more about the RCP’s collections, and follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Library, Archive and Museum