Doctors in the Middle Ages
Written by Simon Newman
History - Middle Ages
When you consider how far the development of medicine has gone just in your lifetime it can be rather difficult to imagine what life might have been like for those in the medical field during the Middle Ages. Doctors in the Middle Ages knew little of the origination for the ailments that they were trying to treat, and not knowing the cause of the ailment made it incredibly difficult to try and figure out a way to treat or prevent it.
How to become a Doctor in the Middle Ages
Someone did not become a doctor in the Middle Ages like they do today. You did not go to school and study until you were able to pass your exam and get your medical license. Since there was little knowledge in the medical world, a doctor was generally developed through practicing and not created through schooling. Most doctors came from the higher end of the social ladder, and were generally more educated. Since the lower class consisted mostly of farmhands or servants the education level was extremely limited.
Doctors were not always well received by society. Religion ruled the Middle Ages, and many people believed that the Church would provide them with all that they needed, and this included medicine and medical attention. It was not until the later part of the Middle Ages that the Church, state, and society as a whole began to realize the importance of having an educated doctor.
The requirements for a practicing doctor began shortly after the 15th century in which doctors were then required to have a minimum amount of schooling before they were able to officially be considered a doctor. The upper class is where all the doctors remained since the lower class would need their children to work in order to help and support the rest of the family.
Restrictions on Doctors
The small amount of information that was available about the medical field made it impossible for doctors in the Middle Ages to properly practice medicine. There was almost no literature available and the literature that could be found was often written in a language that would need to be translated. The fact that the literature was being translated left a large margin of error. People did not travel or learn from other cultures the way that they do today, and that lack of knowledge led to the detriment of the medical field.
The beginning of the Middle Ages saw a strong concentration on the church. The Church provided everything that anyone needed, and many believed that the practice of medicine was considered to be black magic. Since the Church believed that everything was divinely provided by God they did not accept the practice of anything scientific. Eventually the church came to realize the importance of medicine, and were willing to accept the fact that jut because science was being used it did not mean that black magic was at work.
There are a few countries that were the frontrunners in medicine such as Rome, Greece, & Egypt. These countries were really the only ones that put a strong concentration on doctors in the Middle Ages. They were aware that medicine was something that needed to be studied and researched. These civilizations did what they could to progress medicine, but eventually they did not have the resources available to continue their research or they were merged in with other civilizations that did not have such a strong concentration in medicine.
The later part of the Middle Ages is when Western Europe began to develop interest in medicine. The Arabic civilization was working on translating the literature that they were able to acquire from the fallen Greek civilization, and Western Europe had began to invest in the future of medical research and development.
Money was being invested in building establishments that would educate individuals that wanted to become doctors, and would be a base for medical practice. The fact that there were actually institutions available in which an individual was able to go and actually learn about the medical professional was a giant step for Western Europe, but students and doctors still had to be careful about how they practiced their medicine.
Doctors in the Middle Ages had to be extremely careful not to produce a stance on medicine that went against the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church was the final word in government at the time, and trying to go against them could be punishable by torture or even death.
Many of the medical practices that existed during the Middle Ages are no longer used today. Since there was little research done on the human body almost all physicians were required to rely on the literature that was developed by Galen’s observations of the human anatomy. This meant that there were many beliefs that were not accurate, but doctors in the Middle Ages had no way of knowing if it was their practices of the disease itself that was hurting the patient.
Tools were often little more than kitchen utensils or something that could be created fairly easily.
This meant that surgery was almost non-existent, and that people often died from blood loss. Blood letting was a tactic that was commonly used by doctors in the Middle Ages. It was a process in which doctors would make certain incisions and drain a certain amount of blood from the patient’s body. The doctors believed that this was allowing the tainted blood to leave the body so that fresh clean blood could come and replace it.
The only problem was that the incision often became infected, or too much blood would be drained from the patient resulting in death. There were quite a large amount of deaths throughout the Middle Ages that were attributed to the plague.
The “Black Death” was considered to be one of the most devastating plagues in history, and during the time the Church believed that the individuals that fell ill became infected as a punishment from God for their sins. Fortunately, medicine was able to be proven useful and eventually the Church would allow the education of doctors in the Middle Ages in an effort to help avoid such a catastrophic event like the plague from happening again.