With our rather complacent modern method of belittling the past and our disinclination to admit that the Spaniards were doing anything in science that the English Americans were not to think of for nearly two centuries, it would be easy to conclude that the teaching at these medical schools must have been altogether trivial and of no significance. When it is learned that most of the teaching was founded on Hippocrates and Galen some of our generation might think it hopelessly backward, but it would be well for those who think so, to be reminded that during the century following the sixteenth, Sydenham in England, and Boerhaave in Holland, the most distinguished medical men of their time who are deservedly looked up to with great reverence by most of the distinguished teachers of ours, were both of them pleading for a return to the broad, sane views and insistence on clinical observation of Hippocrates and Galen. As a matter of fact the medical schools of both the University of Mexico and of Lima were furnishing quite as good a medical training as the average medical school of Europe at that time. They were modelled closely after the Spanish universities and were in intimate relations with them, even exchanging professors and students, and at the middle of the seventeenth century at least maintaining excellent standards.
From the very beginning, then, the Spanish Americans made a definite attempt to develop scientific knowledge in America. In medicine, in botany, in pharmacology, as well as in geography, philology, ethnology, and anthropology, there are magnificent contributions made by Spanish scholars. Many a Spanish university student and teacher spent time in this country investigating the properties of plants, especially their relations to medicine, and laying precious foundations in botany. Besides there were university scholars at home in Spain taking advantage of these field investigations to compile works of serious character which are well known by those who are familiar with the history of botany and pharmacology. What the Spaniards were doing in America the Portuguese were doing in India and South Africa, and a very serious attempt was made during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to bring to Europe every possible material, plant or mineral, that might be of value for human health and at the same time to increase the bounds of human knowledge by careful investigation.
James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)