Visit The National Museum of Health and Medicine: DC’s Most Interesting Museum

Move past the Smithsonian because you won’t find Washington, D.C., area’s most interesting museum at the Mall. Instead it sits in Silver Spring, a growing neighborhood in southern Maryland and a mere eight miles north of the White House. Visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine and not long after, you’ll agree that it is one of DC’s best attraction. The facility is relatively new, having only occupied the spot in 2011, but the museum itself was founded during the height of the Civil War under the name Army Medical Museum.

Visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine

How to Get There?

Since the location is somewhat off the beaten track, driving a rental car is the best way to visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine, especially if you’re pressed for time. This scientific gem sits next to the Forest Glen Annex, a U.S. Army installation, and is surrounded by other military and government facilities. It is also nowhere near public transportation. The nearest Metro station is Forest Glen, located a mile away. There is a local bus (S5) though that stops at Seminary Rd. and Hale St. in Silver Spring, which is about 500 meters away from the entrance.

NMHM Exterior
NMHM Exterior

Why Should You Go?

The National Capital Region (NCR) is full of fascinating museums from those showcasing traditional fine arts and natural history, to those catering to specific interests like journalism and spy craft. When you visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine you’ll quickly see that it too deserves to be atop a traveler’s DC museum list. The volume of collection alone is astounding, with over 24 million medical related specimens and artifacts available for viewing at one point or another. Another reason is because of the museum’s unique exhibits.

Traumatic Brain Injury Exhibit
Traumatic Brain Injury Exhibit

Where else can you see at least a dozen actual human brains preserved to teach visitors about the causes of traumatic brain injuries?

Abraham Lincoln's Artifacts
Abraham Lincoln’s Artifacts

What Can You See?

With over 24 million items in its collection, there’s no shortage of things to see at when you visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine. The exhibits that draw the most crowd (and sometimes gasps) however, include the wing dedicated to military medicine, which highlights the Trauma Room at a portable military hospital set up in Ballad, Iraq, the section dedicated to anatomy and physiology which includes the extensive and fascinating wet collection of human brains and other body parts, the display showcasing different diseases and how it affects a particular organ in the body, and the artefacts associated with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, including the exact bullet that cost him his life.

Bullets and Mullets
Bullets and Mullets

Some of the other interesting items include a collection of bullets and mullets take from individual Civil War battle sites, the first machine that helped revolutionized the treatment of kidney disease, and a wall narrating a preservation technique referred to as plastination.

Visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine: Woman and Man's Reproductive System Preserved Through Plastination
Woman and Man’s Reproductive System Preserved Through Plastination

Other Museums Like It in the United States

Medical museums might not be the norm in every major American city, but they are more common than you think. Perhaps you’re considering a career in medicine or biotechnology. If so, visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine plus one of these other medical museums around the country.

The Indiana Medical Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana

The Indiana Medical Museum sits on the grounds of the former Central State Hospital and occupies the old pathology building, the oldest surviving in the United States. The exhibits focus on the evolution of psychiatric medicine and also contain a number of wet artefacts including brains affected by mental illness. The museum also showcases a mock autopsy and trauma rooms.

Indy Museum Exterior
Indy Museum Exterior: Image via Flickr by Indiana Landmarks, CC BY-NC-ND, 2.0

The museum is open to the public on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturday, (except July 4th, Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Friday, December 25th, and January 1st) from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission fee begins at $3 for children and $10 for adults.

International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago, Illinois

Head up to Chicago, Illinois and visit a museum with a surgical medicine theme. Aptly enough, it’s called International Museum of Surgical Science and features thousands of surgical instrument exhibits divvied up by specializations. In addition to the medical artifacts, the museum also features contemporary works of art by its resident artist that reveal the interrelated perspectives of art and science.

Surgical Technology
Surgical Technology: Image via Flickr by John Kannenberg, CC BY-NC-ND, 2.0

The museum is open to the public from 10-4 p.m. on weekdays (excluding Monday) and 10-5 p.m. on weekends but close on major holidays. Admission rates begin at $7 for kids up to $15 for adults.

Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

You’ve likely heard of the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Many would say that it is the most famous medical museums in the United States and unsuitable for those faint of heart. The museum’s world-renowned collection includes Albert Einstein’s brain and a wall of skulls.

Visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine: Soap Lady at Mutter Museum
Soap Lady at Mutter Museum: Image via Flickr by John Donges, CC BY-NC-ND, 2.0

The Mütter is open daily from 10-5 p.m. (except Thanksgiving, December 24, December 25, and January 1) and cost $11 for children and $16 for adults.

About Iris A


Born in the Philippines, but grew up in Texas, Iris has been traveling and writing about her experiences for well over a decade. Her work has been published on well-known travel sites like Hipmunk (#hipmunkcitylove) and D Magazine Online Travel Club. She has been all over Europe, the US, and has recently started exploring Latin America. She loves trying local cuisine and visiting UNESCO deemed World Heritage sites. Her favourite city is New York, with London, following a close 2nd. You can follow her on Twitter @sundeeiris or through her travel blog, Traveling With Iris.

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  1. Quirky US East Coast Museums | Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] another medical museum called the National Museum of Health and Medicine. The U.S. Army founded the museum during the Civil War primarily as a medical museum but it has slowly expanded into to a full-blown […]


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