The history of medicine began when primitive peoples learned to use plants and herbs to cure their illnesses. There are 25,000 year old drawings in the Lascaux caves in France showing plants being used for healing. These drawings are the earliest evidence of plant medicinal use.
Medicine in Ancient Egypt
The oldest known Egyptian remedies go back to 3000 BC. As far back as 2750 BC the Egyptians had performed rudimentary forms of surgery. The Edwin Smith papyrus states the Egyptians dealt with illnesses by examination and doing prognosis. It should be noted though that the Edwin Smith papyrus is just one kind. Other papyri showed the Egyptians relying on magic to ward off diseases.
Greek and Roman Medicine
The history of medicine in Greece was quite advanced. Hippocrates has been termed the father of modern medicine. Hippocrates and his corpus were the ones who first recognized the importance of finger clubbing in detecting lung ailments.
Hippocrates also classified illnesses as either chronic, endemic etc. He is also the first doctor to perform chest surgery. But he is probably best known for the Hippocratic Oath, which is still taken by doctors today.
The Romans were noted for their surgical instruments. They were the ones who made use of scalpels, surgical needles and specula. They were also instrumental in developing cataract operations.
Medicine in the Medieval Age
A study of the history of medicine shows that it suffered a decline during ths period. The fall of Rome was followed by economic collapse. Except for a few monasteries, medical knowledge were limited to the few.
People relied on superstition and folklore to get rid of ailments. It was only during the Renaissance that interest in medicine was reignited.
It began with the works of Vesalius, one of the pioneers in anatomical research. Other researchers like Michael Servetus, Thomas Brown and Garcia de Orta began conducting medical examinations and challenging superstitious beliefs.
One of the biggest breakthroughs in medicine was the discovery of the existence of bacteria. They were observed by Antonie van Leeuiwenhoek in 1676 using a microscope.
The 1800s were pivotal in the history of medicine. In 1865 Joseph Lister established the importance of antiseptics. Gregor Mendel (1822-84) set down Mendel’s laws, which would become the basis for genetics.
The works of Louis Pasteur and Charles Bernard proved theories about germs. World War I led to the development of the X-ray and the ECG. The period between the wars saw the development of antibiotics.
World War II saw antibiotics and penicillin mass produced for the first time. In 1953 the DNA was discovered by Crick and Watson and this led to advancements in genetic research.
The discoveries in stem cell research have also been instrumental in treating a variety of life threatening illnesses including cancer. Medicines for ailments like heart attacks and kidney disease have become more sophisticated.
The history of medicine continues to change. Genetics, cloning and the Human Genome Project hold a lot of promise and could lead to the eradication of other illnesses in the future.