History of Medicine in America Essay

This essay has a total of 1134 words and 6 pages.

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

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 than cure them. “Irregular”
practitioners began to use new methods in surgery, hygiene beliefs, and new medical
systems that were generally frowned upon because the public was not used to it. It took
awhile for the United States to become advanced and wealthy enough to produce any serious
output in scientific discovery. In 1807, Thomas Jefferson encouraged the medical
community to look into research more. Members of the medical community began to research
more into specific fields of medicine. For example, anatomy became much more detailed
from 1776 to 1865. The Civil War produced enormous amounts of experience in dealing with
wounds afflicted in battle. While disease spread rapidly through overcrowded urban
communities, farmers faced vulnerable months during early settlement. Medical
institutions were based mainly around the larger cities, so the rural population continued
to rely on traveling physicians and home remedies.

The medical establishment in America from 1864 to 1940 made a switch to specialized
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