Thursday, July 16, 2015

Medical Education During the Civil War

(The following are the personal edited research notes of Dr. Michael Echols, the source of which may or may not be completely documented)

During the period just before the Civil War, a physician received minimal surgical  training. Nearly all the older doctors served as apprentices in lieu of formal education. Even those who had attended one of the few medical schools were poorly trained.  The perception that 'doctors' or 'surgeons' knew how to do amputations or any other kind of surgery is just wrong.  Perhaps the practicing surgeons in medical institutions were experienced at doing various procedures, but the average student who had just graduated was severely limited in surgical experience.  As the Civil War started, there were very few experienced surgeons to handle battlefield wounds.  The Union Army had to 'screen' the applicants who wanted to serve because so few were qualified.

In Europe, four-year medical schools were common, laboratory training was widespread, and a greater understanding of disease and infection existed.  Many U.S. medical students attended medical school in Scotland, England, or Europe.

The average medical student in the United States, on the other hand, trained for two years or less, received practically no clinical experience, and was given virtually no laboratory instruction. Harvard University, for instance, did not own a single stethoscope or microscope until after the war.

Until tuition was instituted in 1871 at Harvard, salaries of Medical School professors were raised through the sale of lecture tickets.

Another important point about medical students in the 1800's is how few graduated verses how many attended in a given year.  Very few actually graduated.  If you look at the current year's registered students at Albany Medical College catalogue in a given year, and then look back at how many actually graduated it is amazing how few finished and actually graduated.  The large number of students on any given year could be explained by both a high attrition rate, but also by students who wanted to refresh their knowledge since lectures were sold on a ticket basis and lecturers/doctors were paid by these tickets purchased for most of the 1800's.



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