Our World In Medicine

Our World In Medicine

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Our World In Medicine

     One of the most important factors about people's lives is the
information of, the use of, and the growing knowledge of medicine. Medicine is
a science that nations all over the world use. It is a science because it is
based on knowledge gained through careful study and experimentation. Medicine
is also an art form because it depends on how skillfully doctors and other
medical workers apply their knowledge when dealing with patients.1
     Medicine is one of the most respected professions. The two important
goals of medicine are to save lives and to relieve suffering, which is why it is
so respected. But the medical field is not open to anyone who wants to help.
It takes many long years of college and medical school to get even a license to
work with medicine.2 While some doctors are more important than others, almost
all of them are on call twenty - four hour a day, seven days a week. Because
they have to apply themselves to their job at all times, they are payed at very
good wages.
     Human beings have been suffering from disease since they first appeared
on the earth about two and one -half million years ago. Throughout most of this
time, they knew little about how the human body works or what causes disease.
But medicine has gone through many stages throughout history.
     In prehistoric times, people believed that angry gods or evil spirits
caused disease. To cure the sick, the gods had to be pacified or the evil
spirits driven from the body. In time, this task became the job of the first
"physicians".3 The first - known surgical treatment was an operation called
trephining. Trephining involved use of a stone instrument to cut a hole in a
patient's skull. Scientists have found fossils of such skulls that date back as
far as 10,000 years.
     Prehistoric people probably also discovered that many plants can be used
as drugs. For example, the use of willow bark to relieve pain probably dates
back thousands of years.4 Today, scientists know that willow bark contains the
important ingredients that is included in making aspirin.
     In the Middle East, the Egyptians began making important medical
progress. Around 2500 B.C., Egyptian physicians began to specialize. Some
physicians treated only diseases of the eyes or teeth. Others specialized in
internal diseases. Egyptian surgeons produced a textbook that told how to treat
dislocated or fractured bones and as well as tumors, ulcers, and wounds.5
     The civilization of ancient Greece was at its peak during the 400's B.C.
Throughout this period, sick people flocked to temples dedicated to the Greek

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god of healing, Asclepius, seeking magical cures.6 But at the same time, the
great Greek physician Hippocrates began showing that disease has only natural
causes. He thus became the first physician known to consider medicine a science
and art separate from the practice of religion. The Hippocratic oath, an
expression of early medical ethics, reflects Hippocrates' high ideals.7
     The Greek physician Galen made the most important contributions to
medicine in Roman times. Galen performed experiments on animals and used his
findings to develop the first medical theories based on scientific experiments.
For this reason, he is considered the founder of experimental medicine. But
because his knowledge of anatomy was based on animal experiments, Galen
developed many false notions about how the human body works.8
     During the Middle Ages, which lasted from the A.D. 400's to the 1500's,
the Muslim Empire of Southwest and Central Asia contributed greatly to medicine.
Rhazes, a Persian - born physician of the late 800's and early 900's, wrote the
first accurate descriptions of measles and smallpox. Avicenna, an Arab
physician of the late 900's and early 1000's, produced a medical encyclopedia
called Canon of Medicine. It summed up the medical knowledge of the time and
accurately described many known diseases. Avicenna's work became popular in
Europe, where it influenced medical education for more than 600 years.9
     The chief medical advances during the Middle Ages were the founding of
many hospitals and the first university medical schools. In the 900's, a
medical school was started in Salerno, Italy. It became the chief center of
medical learning in Europe during the 1000's and 1100's. Other important
medical schools developed after 1100. During the 1100's and 1200's, many of
these schools became part of newly developing universities.10
     A new scientific spirit developed during the Renaissance, 1300's to the
1600's. The laws against human dissection were totally relaxed during this
period. As a result, the first truly scientific studies of the human body
began.11 A French army doctor named Ambroise Paré improved surgical techniques
to such an extent that he is considered the father of modern surgery. For
example, instead of burning a wound to prevent infection, he developed the much
more effective method of applying ointment and then allowing the wound to heal
     The scientific study of disease, called pathology, was developed during
the 1800's. Rudolf Virchow, a German physician and scientist, led the
development. Virchow believed that the only way to understand the nature of
disease was by close examination of the affected body cells. He did important
research in such diseases as leukemia and tuberculosis.13      Pasteur, a
brilliant French chemist, proved that microbes are living organisms and that
certain kinds of microbes cause disease. He also proved that killing specific
microbes stops the spread of specific diseases. Koch, a German physician,
invented a method for determining which bacteria cause particular diseases.
Other research scientists followed the lead of these two pioneers.
     Pasteur's early work on bacteria convinced an English surgeon named
Joseph Lister that germs caused many of the deaths of surgical patients. In
1865, Lister began using carbolic acid, a powerful disinfectant, to sterilize
surgical wounds. But this method was replaced by a more efficient technique
known as aseptic surgery. This technique involved keeping germs away from
surgical wounds in the first place instead of trying to kill germs already
     Advances in many fields of science and engineering have created a
medical revolution in the 1900's. For example, the discovery of X-rays by the
German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen enabled doctors to see inside the human body
to diagnose illnesses and injuries. The discovery of radium in 1898 provided a
powerful weapon against cancer.15
     The development of new vaccines has helped control the spread of such
infectious diseases as polio, hepatitis, and measles. During the 1960's and
1970's, the World Health Organization conducted a vaccination program that
eliminated smallpox from the world.
     Much progress in modern medicine has resulted from engineering advances.
Engineers have developed a variety of instruments and machines to aid doctors in
the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases and disorders. Some of
these devices have helped surgeons develop amazing new lifesaving techniques,
especially in the fields of heart surgery and tissue transplants.16
     Throughout many, many centuries, medicine has been used in hundreds of
different forms. But the main goal of every different form was the same, to
help the diseased and unhealthy. Every passing day, another scientist or doctor
discovers another breakthrough in science and medicine. In years to come, we
will have cures to incurable diseases, and people will be living ten to twenty
years longer then they are today. Medicine provides us with the needs and hopes
for the future, as our technology makes the path for us to follow.
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