The Social Ideas of American Physicians (1776-1976): Studies of the Humanitarian Tradition in Medicine
This study makes the provocative claim that the social lives of physicians are dramatically intertwined with their practice of medicine. It illustrates through detailed examination of the lives of individual physicians how social orientations and social contexts shape medical practice. In doing so, it challenges the claim that advances in medical practice evolve ineluctably from the sequential uncovering of scientific facts. Instead, discoveries emerge from the social concerns of physicians and their immersion in community affairs. The book also demonstrates that physicians are frequently looked down on or even censured for their social involvements - punished, in effect, for the very activities that facilitated their great discoveries.
The Social Ideas of American Physicians explores the social orientations, views, and actions of American physicians from postrevolutionary years to the revolutions of rising expectations that characterized social change in mid-twentieth century. It considers the doctors most often discussed in medical history volumes as a basis of selection. Of necessity it also deals with certain physicians who seem to have been pushed toward oblivion because of their association with black slavery, women's rights, the plight of the poor, pacifism, and other reform movements.
Presented here is a documentation of these basic themes. This book examines the doctors most often chosen as examples who have been discussed in medical histories and the volumes of The Dictionary of American Biography and The Dictionary of American Medical History Biography (1984), which undoubtedly eliminated many worthy physicians who were leaders in their communities but were recognized only for their medical skills. The social movements - the crusades - of the last two hundred fifty years are the organizing themes of this study, thus several outstanding physicians, who may not be found in standard references, are included.
Those who were criticized, for example, when they acted to cleanse the world of the dread disease of fascism included California physicians of the stature of Thomas Addis, who treated Bright's disease; Leo Eloessner, the noted chest surgeon; Milton Terris, editor of The Journal of Public Health Policy; and Edward Barsky of New York City, who offered his life to help Spanish people in their civil war.
Some readers may be disturbed by the tendency of the author to associate quality medical practice with social concern and action. But Rudolph Virchow, M.D., the noted German pathologist, insisted that "medicine is a social science." Others who hold with Oliver Wendell Holmes, M.D., that the doctor as well as the tailor should "stick to his last" may fear the apparent adulteration of responsible medical practice by involvement in social reform. Though this issue may remain a bone of contention of medical history, the discussions presented here give credit to many physicians who fought against social injustice as well as physical illness with the conviction that they served Hippocrates even better.
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