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A Brief history of Medicine

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The discipline of medicine is perhaps the most promising in dealing with the ultimate price for being born. And it's no surprising that medicine has been of great fascination to humans throughout antiquity. Some of the earlier practices of medicine hardly qualify to be regarded as medicine proper, such as the practices of purging, bleeding and trepanning (the last ritual was not for surgery purposes but to set free the demons) during the renaissance, and their contribution to the development of modern medicine is contestable (Loudon, 1997, p.24). The modernity of modern medicine astonishing progress would perhaps mellow the hearts of the most diehard atheists.


This is not an attempt to chronicle the development of medicine (that would take far too many pages and too much time) but this resource can be valuable to the curious minds that don't have much time on their hands, so the autodidacts are advised to seek other solutions.


Western medicine development perhaps receives attention, perhaps

unfairly, but it is the one which largely enjoys the benefits of humans' long memories, and it's thus easier to track and examine.


To begin with, there is scant evidence of when the use of plants as medicine appeared, though the first signs have been traced in France and are reckoned to go back in time some 13,000-25,000 years (wikipedia 2007 [online]).  Also in present day Pakistan, archeologists have discovered some human teeth dating back some 9,000 years, and the drilling found on the surface of some of the teeth suggests that dentistry is not a modern day phenomenon.


Hippocrates, of the Hippocratic Oath contributed immensely to the development of medicine and medical ethics in Greece some 400 BC through his Primum non nocere ("first, do no harm") and Ars longa, vita brevis ("Art is long, and life short") (crystalinks 2007 [online]). Greeks are in fact credited with being among the first to come up with rational medicine free from the then widely-held religious beliefs and superstition. But it was in the last two centuries that Medicine made its greatest steps. And the western medical field looks crowded with figures such as Louis Pasteur and

Robert Koch (perhaps they saved the humans from bacterial annihilation) Loudon ed, 1997 p.215).


The 19th century saw the revolution of medicine in which ancient ideas

of infectious disease epidemiology was swapped with laboratory techniques and equipment. Some of the contributions may appear rather pedestrian but had dramatic effect. Ignaz Semmelweis in 1847 reduced post-op complications (and many deaths) by prescribing cleaning of hands by physicians before attending mothers at childbirth (Simons, 2002 p.165). This contribution has not always acknowledged by his peers, but it did contribute to the laying of the building blocks that were used by medically immortal Louis Pasteur to contribute to the general germ theory (wikipedia 2007 [online]).


But medicine is not all about White-coated men and women with stethoscopes on their necks. Other professions such as nursing and midwifery were instrumental in the later development of medicine, and

it is women that seemed to thrive in this area led by the iconic Florence Nightingale.





1. Simons, J.G. (2002). Doctors and Discoveries: Lives That Created

today's Medicine. Wilmington, Houghton Mifflin Reference Books.


2. LOUDON, I (1997). Western Medicine: Illustrated History. Oxford University Press, Oxford.


3. URL

Last accessed on 8th November, 2007.



4. URL

Last accessed on 8th November 2007

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