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History of Medicine in America
James Cassedy’s Medicine in America, A Short History takes a comprehensive look at medical progress in America from its colonial days to the present time. The book takes on five different themes in discussing medicine. First, it discusses the medical establishment, and how it develops over time. Second, it looks at the alternative to established medicine. Alternatives consist of any kind of medical practice outside the orthodox practice of the time. Third, Cassedy explores the science of medicine, taking time to recognize individuals who make significant discoveries in the field of medicine. The role of government in science is the fourth theme studied by Cassedy. The government makes considerable efforts into the regulation of medical practice in America. The final theme is the role of the environment in the health of Americans. In covering these themes, Cassedy breaks American history into four different time periods. The book will best be reviewed by looking at each of these time periods, and how they cover the aforementioned themes.
Logically, the book begins by discussing the period of time that America is under the control of Britain. The first inhabitants of the continent took a beating from diseases carried by Europeans. Native Americans did not have the immunities instilled in Europeans. Disease is accredited to wiping out nearly 90 percent of Native Americans. The colonies, however, also had to deal with diseases. Very few physicians lived in the colonies due to the fact that Britain was still the mother country. With the medical establishment being as small as it was, the women of the household often took care of the day to day healing. Midwives handled childbirths, and basically anyone with any knowledge of medical literature was considered capable of healing. Some of the common treatments included steam baths, religious rights, and herbal remedies. Surgical methods were basically limited to that of setting bones and pulling teeth. Realizing that sanitation was a problem, larger towns eventually began to pass regulations on the removal of garbage and dead animals. Health related science was circulated by means of periodicals. Along with being a contributor to medicine as a scientist, Benjamin Franklin often published medical information in his newspapers. A strong supporter of inoculation, the Reverend Cotton Mather frequently wrote about medical matters in terms of religion. The colonial years saw the beginning of a medical establishment. As small groups of British physicians began moving to the colonies, medical schools began to arise and give a foundation to practices in America.
The separation of the colonies from Great Britain caused a break in medical advancement in America. Many physicians saw fit to pack up and return home. Main stream medicine at the time could be considered barbaric by today’s standards. Treatments such as excessive blood letting, which was thought to balance the body’s four humors, often did more harm than good. Sometimes they even led to death. The government began efforts at this time to pass laws requiring physicians be licensed. Thirteen states passed such laws, but eleven eventually repealed the laws. The government reluctantly involved itself in matters such as quarantines and public vaccinations. The spread of the population westward resulted in the lack of available physicians. This led to the rise of many people turning to unorthodox methods of medicine. Quacks, or people who claimed medical knowledge who really had none, often hurt people rather
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