History of Medicine in America

The history of medicine in America is a patchwork of traditions and methods ranging from those practiced by the Native Americans to English medical practices brought over by the early pilgrims. Even barbers played a role in early American medicine, with surgery often relegated to them, considered a bit messy and beneath the dignity of the trained physician.

Early American doctors were often quite scarce, especially in rural areas, leaving many average colonists with no choice but to meet the medical needs of their families on their own, with medical literature and family healing traditions as their only guide. Many physicians in colonial America practiced without formal medical training, getting their knowledge directly from other physicians.

When the pilgrims came from England, they arrived with two physicians, one the commander of the Mayflower, Miles Standish. Like many physicians prominent in the history of medicine in America, Miles Standish had no formal medical education. He was rather a jack-of-all-trades, a military man, explorer, engineer, interpreter, and merchant as well as a physician. His medical knowledge was collected by observing and studying with other physicians.

Dr. Samuel Fuller, the other physician who sailed in with the Mayflower pilgrims, was an unusual doctor for this era, practicing as both a physician and surgeon. Doctors trained in English medicine used techniques based primarily upon the ancient Greek concepts of balance in the body, maintained with diet, herbs, and medicines. Therapies used by these conventional physicians commonly included bleeding, purging, blistering, and prescriptions of Calomel, a form of mercury. Few physicians performed surgery in those days, most leaving this duty to the barbers. Surgeons did not gain a respectable status in the medical profession until 1745, officially separating from the barbershop as full-fledged doctors in their own right.

The history of medicine in America is not one just of the prominent physicians of the day, but also of the practices of families and communities. Treatment by physicians was most often reserved for the wealthiest colonists, or those in the cities. Few average colonists had access to conventional physicians, their expense and scarcity making it rare for many to ever be seen by a doctor. The community met most medical needs, with midwives and neighbor women attending childbirth, caring for the aged and infirm, and treating common illnesses. This community involvement in the home was the beginning of the practice of nursing.

Interwoven into the fabric of everyday existence, the history of American medicine is a complex tale, with many of its most effective treatments in those early days concocted in the kitchens or church halls of the community rather than in the domain of the conventional physician. From this rich history of innovation born of necessity, the marvels of modern American medicine arose.

Latest Article: History of Alternative Medicine

The history of alternative medicine can be traced back to some 5000 years, when the Chinese and Indians discovered traditional and Ayurvedic therapies to heal the body and the mind. The real objective was to identify the deterrents in the body system, which caused the ailments and strengthen the body’s immunity. The therapies mainly incorporated self-care, lifestyle changes and...

Related Articles: