History of Medicine

The practice of medicine existed even in the earliest periods of recorded human history. The fifth century BC was the golden age of Greek medicine and it was during this period that Asclepid Hippocrates (born around 460 BC), introduced scientific system of administering medicine which was till then dominated by religious and mystic practices.

Hippocrates embodied the ideal virtues of a physician such as knowledge, readiness to help, purity of life, compassion, skill and patrotism. Hippocratic medicine was based on practice as well as theory, with little emphasis on anatomy. The history of Indian medicine dates back to 3000 BC and the excavations of Mohanjadaro and Harappa throw light on medical practices that flourished at that age which consisted mainly of religious, magical and empirical procedures.

“Ayurveda” (the science of life) is considered an off-shoot of the Rigverda. It laid emphasis not only on healing, but also on the prolongation of life, preservation of illness. The ancient sages recognized health as the very basis of virtues, wealth, enjoyment and salvation. From an early times Ayurveda had developed independent of the religious precepts. Agnivesa has been credited with authorship of Ayurveda. CHaraka edited this encyclopedic text and produced “Charaka Samhita”. Susruta, who was a medical teacher of varanasi during the Buddhist period, practiced surgery.

Vagbhata, another Buddhist physician living in the Indus region (Second century AD) wrote two classics in “Ayurveda Ashanga Sangraha” and “Ashtanga Hridaya”. Vagbbata emphasised the principles of medicine, Susruta dealt mainly with surgery and anatomy, while Charaka emphasized therapeutics. The Yoga concept of physical and mental culture to preserve the health of the body and the mind developed in India. Even when the Aryan influx into India brought in Ayurveda, other systems of medicine such as Siddha and Chintamoni existed in this sub-continent, especially in the South from pre-Aryan times. The Buddha (6th Century BC) and his disciples practiced medicine and consequently healing of the sick was given a great importance.

Arabic and middle eastern countries share the tradition of Arabic folk medicine and the Unani or adopted Greek medicine. It was essentially taken from Galenic teachings during the early Islamic period. Several names stand out prominently among those who developed this system-Ibn Sina of Andolasia in Spain, Al Mansur of Baghdad, Avicenna, Razi, Rhzes, and others. The back bone of the theoretical instruction was the Alexandrian canons which summarized a few books compiled by Galen. The major works in Unani were “Al qnanum Fi-Tibb” by Ibn Sina, continued by Rhazes, “Kitab-Al-shifa” by Avicenna, “Al-Tarsiff” by AhuQuasim-Az-Zuhra-Wi” and several others. Hospitals were established from the tenth century AD in several towns. Surgery and Ophthalmology was practiced during this period and the works of Unani Surgeons paved the way for development of Surgery in Europe. In India, the Muslim rulers popularized Unani system side by side with Ayurveda. After its golden age in the 12th century the system came to a stand-still and declined.

From these ancient times medicine progressively emerged as a scientific discipline, under going periodic changes in its content and approach. The sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries witnessed the growth of the modern physical sciences and its scientific methods of study and analysis. Vesalius, born in 1514 in Brussel, made extensive observations in anatomy and produced his classical work on anatomy “De humanis corporis fabrica” in 1543. William Harvey, a British Physician, published his classical work on circulation of blood. “De mortu Cordis” in 1628. It was Harvey who established the scientific basis of medicine.

Starting in the late 18th century and developing with a great rapidity in the 1th century, the modern medical theory and practice made great progress. Discovery of the microscope by Leewenhock, three hundred years ago led to the identification of the cell as the basis of biological existence. Koch’s postulates laid a firm basis for establishing the aetiology of microbial diseases. Gregor Mendel published his observations in 1865 and laid the foundations of modern genetics. Molecular diseases also were identified in the early part of the 19th century.

From the middle of this century the development of knowledge has been been explosive. Though earlier medicine was practiced as an art, at present it is a harmonious blend of scientific practices generously tempered with human warmth, kindness, and above all, the bare common sense. What is spoken of as a clinical picture is not just the photograph of a man sick in bed, it is the sum total of the patient’s condition, his home, his work, his fears etc. A good physician honors his patient and his time; sympathy and understanding are found in that joy of personal bond which forms the source of the greatest satisfaction in the practice of medicine.