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Am J Med Sci. 1999 Sep;318(3):171-80.

History of medicine: the metamorphosis of scientific medicine in the ever-present past.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, The University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson 39216-4505, USA.


Hippocrates (460-370 BCE), the father of medicine, developed principles for medical diagnosis and treatment together with a code of ethics. When the first Ptolemy ruled Egypt, he created a great library of 700,000 rolls at Alexandria, which became a repository for the works of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates, and all the writings of the known world, but it was destroyed by a great fire. Galen of Pergamum (129-216), who lived 500 years after Hippocrates, was well educated and studied anatomy, surgery, drugs and Hippocratic medicine. His ideas influenced medical thinking for the next 1500 years. The Arabic physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna) wrote a great medical work entitled Canon of Medicine. After the Dark Ages (500 to 1050), academic medicine was reestablished in Europe, especially at Salerno, Bologna, Padua, Paris, Montpellier, and Oxford. The greatest medical disaster of the Middle Ages was the Black Death. Other diseases of note were leprosy, smallpox, tuberculosis, typhus, measles, diarrhea, meningitis, and colic. As interest in human dissection increased, the study of anatomy became popular. With development of the printing press, medical knowledge became more widely disseminated and technical advances in science flourished. Advances in medicine occurred in concert with developments in technology. These included the microscope, the stethoscope, anesthetic agents, discoveries in bacteriology, a carbolic acid spray to reduce infection during surgery, the clinical thermometer, blood transfusions, electrocardiography, X-rays, and the sphygmomanometer. Johns Hopkins University was established at the end of the 19th century to train scientifically knowledgeable physicians. The first faculty included Welch, Osler, Halstead, Kelly, Mall, and Abel. Graduates of the new school carried scientific medicine to universities throughout America. More medical advances have been made during the 20th century than in all the other centuries combined. Advances in medical knowledge have resulted not only from developments in technology but from increased access to current information provided through libraries such as the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland.

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