General Health

The History of Doctors/Physicians

The history of physicians is as rich and diverse as the practice itself. The French cave paintings of nearly 27,000 years ago are the first to mention and document the administration of medicines through plants. And to this day, we hear about the wonders and miracles of medical sciences.

So if you have often found yourself wondering, “who was the first medical doctor in the world?” or “which is the most common doctor specialties?” then you have come to the right place. This post will attempt to quench your curiosity and vividly describe how the modern doctor came to be.

So sit back and buckle up as we take you right back into history!

The History of Medicine and Doctors: A Detailed Timeline

In this section, we have mapped the history of physicians in chronological order. Now let’s start from the very beginning:

Early Medicine and Folklore

The earliest civilizations of Egypt, Indian, and China were the first to explore various facets of medicine. The ancient knowledge of Ayurvedic medicine spilled over from gods’ realms and got passed down to humans through Dhanvantari. Accordingly, these teachings made its way to Vedic literature and became a widespread phenomenon.

Parallelly, the Egyptians were the first to document a root canal surgery, while Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) found its roots through the treatment of the Shang dynasty’s royalties.
While India, Egypt, Greece, and China were at the forefront of medical practices, Japan and the Middle East also had a flourishing interest in medicine.

500 BC to 300 BC

Ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates of Kos (or Hippocrates II), is known as the Father of Western Medicine. It is believed that in this era, that is the Age of Pericles, Hippocrates wrote the widely famous Hippocratic Oath. Of course, the Oath has undergone several changes and translations over time; however, the crux of it remains the same: A physician would do no harm.

1100 AD to 1300 AD

In the 12th century, Europe witnessed a rising interest in medicinal practices. To formalize the same, the history of doctors witnessed the foundation of medical schools across Paris, Oxford, Montpellier, Bologna, and Salerno. These schools drew knowledge passed down by the works of Hippocrates and other medical scholars.
Naturally, the curriculum was a product of its time, and all teachings were a combination of subjects like anatomy and rudimentary surgery, along with medicinal astrology and use of medicinal herbs.

1400 AD

The word “physician” made its first appearance in the 3rd Edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Interestingly, this edition cited physicians and surgeons as rival professions!

1543 AD

Flemish anatomist, Andreas Vesalius, published the De humani corporis fabrica (“On the Structure of the Human Body”), which accurately depicted the human anatomy. The young professor of the University of Padua had collected all the information by dissecting cadavers – a practice that was no longer prohibited.

1766 AD

In 1766, the New Jersey Medical Society was chartered, the first of its kind in America. The medical organization was responsible for creating a program that embraced all matters of greatest concern, such as medical practice regulations, educational standards, fees, and code of ethics, intrinsic to the practice of medicine.
The Medical Society of New Jersey lay the foundation for the establishment of the American Medical Association (AMA) in 1847 AD.

19th Century

In the 19th century, physicians saw the rise of scientific medicine. Individuals like Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister made groundbreaking discoveries that dramatically increased the average life expectancy. Simultaneously, the verification of the germ theory disrupted the field of pathology and redefined surgery.

1816 AD

Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laënnec was the first doctor in history to invent and use a simple stethoscope. The French physician initially called the device cylindre and used it to observe the sounds of the heart and lungs – the findings that he later published in De l’auscultation médiate (“On Mediate Auscultation”).
The end of the 19th century also saw breakthroughs in preventive medicine and psychiatry through the contribution of Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, Pierre and Marie Curie, and Sigmund Freud.

1920 AD

The 20th century continued the upward swing of medicinal discoveries and advancements.
The 1920s marks the time in the history of physicians where doctors no longer had to seek permission from the church to perform surgeries.

1928 AD

The discovery of Penicillin, by Alexander Fleming, is the most defining moment in the history of doctors. It paved the way for the development of modern drugs and antibiotics.

1937 AD

On September 18th, 1947, the World Medical Association was formally announced when physicians from 27 different countries met in Ferney-Voltaire, Paris. This meeting is hailed as the first General Assembly of the WMA.
It was around this year when Dr. Bernard Fantus founded the first hospital-based blood bank at the Cook County Hospital, Chicago. He used a 2% sodium citrate solution in refrigerated blood to increase its shelf life by ten days!

1954 AD

In 1954, the kidney became the first human organ to be successfully transplanted, followed by the liver, heart, and pancreas in the late 1960s.

1972 AD

The Regenstrief Institute developed an Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system to digitize patient records. However, this concept was way ahead of its time as it failed to take off and gain traction.

2005 AD

French doctors Dr. Jean-Michel Dubernard and Dr. Bernard Devauchelle were the first to successfully bypass reconstructive surgery and complete a facial transplant on a patient whose face was disfigured by her dog.

2009 AD

The world’s first telesurgery was carried out in October 2009 where two physicians operating out of New York conducted a laparoscopy on a patient in Strasbourg, France.

2016 AD

A team of Thai engineers and physicians made history by transplanting a fully-operational 3D printed titanium structure thumb on a 37-year-old patient.

2020 and Beyond!

2020 has witnessed unprecedented times with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it also sees the confluence of medicine and IT as they combine for improved healthcare services. As telemedicine becomes the new normal, cloud systems, mobile and internet technologies, etc. are making healthcare more accessible. Additionally, the use of robotics in preventive and curative care will also revolutionize the history of physicians.
From diagnosing conditions and administering drugs to supplying job search network for doctors – digital technologies are transforming everything.

Answering the Internet’s Most Popular FAQs on Doctors and Physicians

The history of doctors sure is vast and expansive. While you digest the entire timeline, let’s quickly address commonly asked questions in a bite-sized, rapid-fire round!

Who was the first doctor medical doctor in the world?

Back in the 3rd Millenium BCE, Imhotep was the first doctor in history. He was the Chief Minister to Emperor Djoser and was later regarded as the Egyptian god of medicine.

When is Doctors’ Day celebrated in the US and India?

To commemorate the history of physicians, the United States celebrates Doctors’ Day on 30th March. The date recognizes the successful use of general anesthesia in surgery. Coincidentally, it is also the day when Australia celebrates its National Doctors’ Day.
In India, 1st July marks the National Doctors’ Day to honor the contribution of Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy.

Who was the first female doctor?

Marie Josefina Mathilde Durocher of Brazil was the first female doctor in history, who graduated from medical school in 1834!

Who can be called a doctor?

Anybody who practices medicine or possesses a doctorate degree earns the title of a Doctor.

Is there a degree higher than Ph.D.?

A Ph.D. or a doctorate degree is the highest academic degree.

Which is the most common physician specialties?

Family medicine is the most common specialties. Its popularity is due to the fact that individuals are always on the lookout for how to link verified doctors with their families for long-term preventive and curative care.

Fun Facts About Physicians

After the quick round of Q&As above, let’s relax with a few interesting and intriguing facts about doctors that will blow your mind!

  • Doctors started wearing their trademark white coats in the 1800s.
  • Physicians work as much as 60 hours per week, with over 64% of doctors working overtime.
  • According to a Gallup poll, Americans rate their doctors “high” or “very high” on the scale to measure their ethical standards and honesty.
  • Amongst the 56 signatories of the Declaration of Independence, five of them were physicians.
  • Greeks were the first to construct dedicated housing for the sick and ailing. However, these “hospitals” were temples to appease the Gods of healing.
  • During the Dark Ages in Europe (476 AD), most diseases were attributed to an excess of blood. Thus began the practice of bloodletting through leeches and incisions.
  • The Mesopotamian Hammurabi’s Code dating back to the 18th century BC is the first written record of medical practice.

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