The greatest surprise is to be found in Professor Draper’s ignorance of the history of his own profession. He says, “It had always been the policy of the Church to discourage the physician and his art; he interfered too much with the gifts and profits of the shrines.” Professor Draper apparently knew nothing of the magnificent medical schools attached to the universities in the medieval period, whose professors wrote great medical and surgical text-books, which have come down to us, and whose faculties required a far higher standard of medical education than was demanded in America in Professor Draper’s own day. For about 1871 anyone who wished might enter an American medical school practically anywhere in the country, without any preliminary education, and having taken two terms of ungraded lectures, that is, having listened to the same set of lectures two years in succession, might receive his degree of doctor of medicine. In the Middle Ages he could enter the medical school only after having completed three years of preliminary work in the undergraduate department, and then he was required to give four years to the study of medicine, and spend a year as assistant with another physician before he was allowed to practise for himself. This is the standard to which our university medical schools gradually climbed back at the beginning of the twentieth century–a full generation after Draper’s time.

We know now that in those earlier centuries they had thorough clinical teaching in the hospitals, that is, physicians learned to practise medicine at the bedside of the patient, and not merely out of books and by theoretic lectures. Clinical teaching had not developed in Professor Draper’s day to any extent. The medieval hospitals had trained nurses and magnificent quarters, while the trained nurse was only introduced into America in 1871, and our hospitals at that time were almost without exception a disgrace to civilization, according to our present standards of hospital construction. Our surgery was most discouraging, because there were so many deaths in the unclean hospital conditions. The medieval hospital surgeons operating under anesthesia, boasted of getting union by first intention, and were in many ways doing better work than their colleagues of 1870, Professor Draper’s own time, before Lister’s great discovery.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)


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