An Indian shaman named Susruta established the first organized practice of medicine in 6 BC. He listed 1,120 known diseases as well as the 760 herbal drugs used to treat them and organized surgical tools by sharp objects and blunt ones. The concept of medicine in ancient India centered on the idea that the human body is comprised of three parts (spirit, phlegm and bile) that must work in harmony for overall good health.
Scholars credit Ancient Egypt with establishing the first public health system by offering specialized training for doctors as well as health insurance plans for workers. They also created the first hospitals which most closely resemble those of today, moving the practice of medicine from a doctor’s home to a place of work. The Babylonians were the first civilization to introduce the concept of diagnostic testing and providing a prognosis to patients in its largest medical text The Diagnostic Handbook, published sometime between 1069 and 1046 BC.
Between 460 and 370 BC, the man known as the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, began studying and practicing medicine in ancient Greece. He and his students published over 70 medical texts and history credits him with creating the Hippocratic oath that doctor’s still take today. Hippocrates was the first physician to categorize illnesses by severity as well as how contagious they were. The Ancient Greeks, who performed them relatively successfully on the human brain and eyes, established the advanced use of surgical procedures. The Romans were the first to invent standardized surgical tools.
In Europe during this time, monasteries were the main practitioners of medicine, as they often had a hospital attached to them. The first medical college, founded during the 11th century, moved the practice of medicine from relying on folk-lore and religion to relying on observation and scientific fact. People of the middle ages were plagued by skin diseases brought on by their tight fighting wool clothing, intestinal diseases due to lack of proper nutrition and pandemics such as the Black Death. Treatment for these diseases often resulted in the local officials creating settlements for those suffering, especially when it came to leprosy. The Black Death killed well over 150 million people, with four out of five of those contracting the disease dying within a week. Treatments varied from diet to bloodletting (one of the few surgeries performed at this time), with smaller villages relying on witchcraft.
The only major surgeries practiced during this time were amputations of limbs. The largest discovery in this period was the fact that food and drink did not create blood as previously believed, rather the heart recycled and circulated blood. Due to the high cost of seeing a licensed physician, many turned to midwives for not only childbirth but medicinal treatments as well, and those requiring surgery turned to barbers for assistance, who would utilize their hair cutting tools to extract teeth, lance boils and practice blood-letting.
Doctors first recognized mental health issues by the construction of lunatic asylums, with lobotomies being the standard treatment for many mental health issues up to 1970. With the onslaught of new technology and medical advancements, many people began to turn back to herbal medicines and practices, such as acupuncture and meditation, as a treatment for illness, citing fears of chemicals used in drugs and invasive surgeries. In 1902, the United States opened the first Public Health office, which quickly became a staple of nearly every town and city.
The advancement of chemistry resulted in today’s modern pharmaceutical companies, as well as government funded research programs and the Food and Drug Administration that overseas public health issues related to medical products and agriculture. Vaccinations against almost every major disease, such as polio, measles, and even chicken pox, occurred in modern times, and have increased the life expectancy of humans by almost ten years, and considerably lowered the rate of childhood death due to illnesses.
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